By Francesca Silverstein, Franklin High School’s The Franklin Post
Three suspected arsonists have been arrested after allegedly setting a string of fires within Mt. Tabor Park. According to the Multnomah District Attorney’s (DA) office, the fires began Wednesday, July 15 and ended Friday, September 9, with the purported arsonists, Malik Hares and Samuel Perkins, being detained by Portland Fire & Rescue on the night of Saturday, September 10.
Though information has not been officially released, booking information from Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office suggests the third suspect, Wayne Chen, was released due to a court order. The investigation is ongoing and Hares and Perkins’ next hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, October 4.
Hares and Perkins were interviewed by police on the night of their arrest after video footage showed them in Mt. Tabor Park around the time of one of the fires. They both admitted their involvement, with Hares disclosing that he returned to the aftermath of the fires and, at times, spoke to the responding firefighters and investigators at the scene. Hares and Perkins were held in the Multnomah County Justice Center until Monday, September 12, when they were released into their families’ custody, without bail, until their trial.
Hares and Perkins are on trial for five counts of first-degree arson and four counts of second-degree arson. According to Oregon legislation, first degree arson is a Class A felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $375,000 fine. Second degree arson is less severe but can still result in up to five years in prison and a $125,000 fine.
The fires are still under investigation. The investigation is being led by Portland Fire & Rescue but, due to the location of the fires, Portland Parks & Recreation is also involved, having received many of the community complaints.
Community members contributed information about the incidents, and also participated in grassroots nightly patrols of the park. They patrolled the park with shovels, burying fires and then calling 911. In addition to putting out fires, they worked to prevent them by notifying authorities of debris pyres.
The Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association (MTNA) helped organize the patrols, and based on estimates from the volunteers, more than 33 fires were set during the multi-month period. At least one of those fires was set during a Red Flag Warning for wildfires. A Red Flag Warning is an alert that weather conditions in a certain area make it highly susceptible to wildfires.
The fires were located in numerous parts of Mt. Tabor, including one across the street from a residential area. While no flames spread to the housing, parts of the hillside and foliage are still scorched.
In an update on the situation, Portland Fire Chief Sara Boone thanked community members for their “proactive efforts, tips and leads” which “played a significant role in keeping each other safe while protecting a valuable and natural forested park setting.”
There are multiple resources the community used that are available to members of the public who witness arson or anything else of concern. The Arson Tip Line is 503.823.3473 (503.823.FIRE).
The Park Ranger Dispatch line is 503.823.1637, available to respond seven days a week 7:30 am-5 pm. Park rangers are an outlet for help in responding to conflicts and rule violations. While rangers can provide basic first aid, all serious medical emergencies and criminal concerns should be referred to Portland Fire & Rescue and the Portland Police Bureau at 911. Additionally, if someone spots a fire in progress, they are advised to immediately call 911.
A burned swath of hill in Mt. Tabor Park along SE 60th Ave. Similar patches can be found in other places along 60th Ave., near the top of SE Yamhill St. and within the interior of the park. Photo by Francesca Silverstein.