‘Can’t rule out’ arson in trailer blaze near Vernonia

Washington County

Water had to be trucked in to fight the remote fire

BANKS, Ore. (KOIN) — A huge fire not far from Vernonia destroyed a trailer on a property off Highway 47, leaving the resident without a place to stay and relatives complaining about problems they’ve recently had with transients.

Two trailers put together to make one home was completely destroyed along with the pole barn where it sat.

Firefighters responded around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hoffman Road just north of Stub Stewart State Park. It took fire crews about 30 minutes to control the flames. No one was hurt.

“The whole area was glowing and lit up,” Mitchell Ward with the Banks Fire Department said. “Flames were about 40 or 50 feet high. So, yeah, it was considerable. Things get going when things get hot.”

Chris Bergstrom rushed his grandmother away from a huge fire near their Vernonia residence, December 11, 2019 (KOIN)

Bergstrom, who lives next door with his grandmother, told KOIN 6 News he had to push her in her wheelchair across the street for safety.

“I went in there and told my grandma, ‘Uncle Roy’s house is on fire! We have to evacuate!'” Bergstrom also took video of the fire.

“My cousin Jason helped me pack the wheelchair down the stairs and then we wheeled her on across the road really fast,” Bergstrom said. “We’re like, ‘Grandma, hold on!’ because we wanted out of there.”

People who live on and around the property are all relatives and family members of the property owner, whose brother lived in the trailer.

Bergstrom told KOIN 6 News his uncle lived in the trailer for years, but he hasn’t been there for months because he’s currently in jail. But he said the family has had issues with acquaintances of his uncle who had been staying at the property until, he said, family members told them to leave.

His uncle, Bergstrom said, couldn’t say no to anyone. “He would, basically, let anyone down on their luck come live in his place.”

A huge fire destroyed 2 trailers on a Vernonia property off Hwy 47, December 11, 2019 (KOIN)

That’s why family members are suspicious of the fire.

“You know, this is only my gut feeling, I’m not going to say this happened for sure, but I strongly believe this was arson,” Bergstrom said.

A cause has not yet been determined, but the lead investigators, Forest Grove Fire, said they “can’t rule out it’s intentionally set but there are other accidental circumstances” being checked.

Bergstrom said he and his relatives are anxious to know more as the investigation continues. “Hopefully they can find out what truly happened here.”

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