Activist Group Claims a Serial Arsonist is Targeting Portland’s Homeless, But the Police and Fire Bureaus Disagree

An organizer with Direct Action Alliance reports seeing seven burned tents in two weeks. After investigating, Portland police say the pattern doesn’t point to a serial arsonist.

On Monday, Direct Action Alliance—a Portland anti-fascism group that, among other things, objects to how police handle homelessness—issued a press release warning of a serial arsonist in Portland.

"Over the last two weeks, multiple arson attacks have been reported by Portland's houseless community to neighbors and advocates," the statement reads. "These attacks are taking place across the Portland metro area and are not isolated incidents."

That's an assertion that the police and fire departments say isn't supported by evidence.

A DAA organizer, Jacob Bureros, tells WW he's seen seven tents burned in various parts of Portland and says that some houseless people his organization interacts with are not reporting the crimes to the police for fear that their belongings will be swept.

(Direct Action Alliance is best known for its confrontations with right-wing extremist groups in Portland's streets.)

In response, Portland Fire & Rescue issued a statement today saying that there is not sufficient data to support the claim that there is an arsonist at large in the city.

"Portland Fire and Rescue takes the charge of a serial arsonist targeting Portland's houseless population very seriously," the statement reads. "The fires mentioned in the [DAA] release are in [our] database along with many others. There are currently no indications of a serial arsonist targeting the houseless community within the City of Portland."

However, the statement continues, investigators can only track fires that are reported. That means it is possible they do not know about some of the incidents shared with DAA.

That's why Portland Fire and Rescue and Portland Police are urging anyone with information about fires within the city call an anonymous tip line.

"The Police Bureau wants all people to feel safe in our community, but understands that some may not feel comfortable reporting crimes," Police Chief Danielle Outlaw says. "I have directed officers to reach out to members of our houseless community during their daily patrols to continue to build trust and discuss methods for reporting crime and why it is important. While Portland Fire and Rescue is the lead investigating agency for arson investigations, the Police Bureau will continue to provide any assistance needed to them during their investigations."

Bureros says his organization is not interested in collaborating with police officers, and that DAA members will be patrolling neighborhoods independently, "collecting data on the arson attacks, establishing a pattern and response map, and collecting supplies such as rape whistles and fire extinguishers to pass out to those under threat."

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