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Destructive Almeda Fire now criminal investigation; body found in area

Ashland police Almeda Fire BMX park KMTR 99
Police worked in area of BMX park where destructive Almeda Fire began on Ashland's north end on Tuesday

In Lane County, Dexter fire chief says man sought for lighting 2 fires at state recreation area

ASHLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Police say a wildfire that apparently began in the area of a BMX park on the north side of Ashland and burned hundreds of homes is a criminal investigation, and that a person was found dead in the area.

KOBI-TV reports investigators spent Wednesday speaking with witnesses and neighbors, working to verify where and how the fire started.

Whether the fire was intentionally set or not is still to be determined, the station reported.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, authorizing the use of federal funds for firefighting costs, said the fire it referred to as the Almeda Glendower Fire started on Tuesday and had burned about 600 homes and more than 3,000 acres of private land at the time of the state’s request.

Another 35,000 homes were threatened in and around the communities of Ashland, Talent, Phoenix, and the city of Medford. The fire also threatened Interstate 5, Highway 99, schools, a fire station, parks, small businesses, and transmission and communication lines in the area.

The Medford Mail Tribune quoted Sheriff Nate Sickler as saying the remains found in Ashland might not be the only fatality from the fire that ravaged Talent and Phoenix and threatened parts of Medford Tuesday night.

Another southern Oregon blaze, the ObenChain Fire, quickly grew to 25,000 acres and prompted evacuation of Shady Cove.

And yet another new blaze, the Table Rock Road Fire, broke out Wednesday afternoon under an I-5 overpass and soon closed the highway and prompted evacuation of Central Point, later downgraded in some areas to Level 2.

Meanwhile, in Lane County, the Dexter Rural Fire District chief said firefighters responded Wednesday to someone trying to start fires at the Dexter State Recreation Area along state Highway 58.

KMTR reported Fire Chief Matt Peterson said a middle-aged man with arm tattoos was seen "lighting two fires in the bushes as you turn toward the dam." He said several good Samaritans put out the fire before crews arrived.

"I don't ever do this," the chief posted, "but this is ridiculous!"

Peterson asked the public to be on the lookout for a man with a black German shepherd, driving a green Ford or Chevy SUV. Anyone with information was asked to contact police.

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Barney Lerten

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