ASHLAND, Ore. — A homeless man was arrested yesterday and faces charges of starting a wind-whipped wildfire Tuesday that destroyed 11 homes outside an Oregon college town.
John Thiry, 40, was arrested under a freeway overpass and charged with 11 counts of reckless endangerment and 11 counts of reckless burning, authorities said.
Ashland police Detective Sergeant Jim Alderman said other people at a homeless camp along Interstate 5 just outside the city limits saw Thiry running from the initial fire.
The fire on the outskirts of Ashland ignited a string of homes one after the other, setting off explosions Tuesday afternoon.
“It was just an inferno — black smoke, RV, things blowing up, gas tanks, tires,’’ neighborhood resident Cindy Walker said. “Propane tanks, I don’t know. It sounded like bombs going off. Like tornadoes of black smoke coming out of garages and backyards.’’
Three other houses were damaged, and homes along four streets in the 1970s-era neighborhood were evacuated. The flames were controlled around dusk, and no injuries were reported. Officials were tallying the damage yesterday and looking for the cause of the blaze, which burned less than 20 acres.
In southern Idaho, firefighters hoped calmer, cooler weather would help them gain ground on a wildfire that scorched more than 510 square miles.
The lightning-sparked fire was fueled by strong winds Sunday and Monday, blackening more than 327,000 acres and becoming the nation’s largest actively battled wildfire since it started Saturday. So far, crews have contained 10 percent of the fire burning across a desolate, flat landscape of sagebrush and cheatgrass.