Arson at Mt. Tabor Park spreads fears of larger blaze – UPDATED

Burns in Mt. Tabor Park photographed by Leslie Carlson last week.

Late Thursday night, the Mt. Tabor Neighborhood Association (MTNA) posted an urgent message on their Facebook page: “Urgent: Fire watch needed for Mt. Tabor Park,” it read.

The reason? According to witness reports and the MTNA, 33 fires have been set by arsonists in the past week or so. They say the burn areas are along Southeast Yamhill above 60th and on line SE Lincoln Street near the off-leash dog park.

Mt. Tabor is a beloved, 196-acre park with trails, viewpoints, and picnic areas nestled alongside an extinct volcano. It’s paved roads are a favorite route for cyclists and this past June the park played host to the 70th annual Mt. Tabor Circuit Race.

We first heard about the fires from southeast Portlander Leslie Carlson. She posted a burned patch of hillside in the park on Twitter last week and wrote, “I will be crushed if that park catches fire. It’s been my physical/mental refuge throughout the pandemic.”

“I ride up there a lot of mornings so I was able to see the burns increase over a few days,” Carlson shared with me this morning. “It was alarming because it is so dry. I’m not a forester, but it looks to me like the whole park could go up if the fire got big enough.”

We’ve also seen a report on Reddit of multiple fires at Powell Butte, a popular off-road cycling area also in southeast Portland. Also due to fire risks, Weyerhaeuser has closed the Rocky Point Trail Area until further notice.

All this comes as fire officials and local leaders are girding for extremely high fire danger in the coming days due to a mix of dry, hot weather and strong wind gusts.

On Tabor, the MTNA isn’t waiting for help. They’re organizing volunteer fire patrols to report any suspicious activity and try to thwart new fires. According to their Facebook post, people who live next to the park have been walking all night with shovels to bury fires and have already reported several of them to 911. “The fire watch needs to be a community wide effort, given the burden. And this weekend winds will be higher than they have been so there is a real risk fires (if started) will spread quickly,” the message reads.

There’s an emergency neighborhood meeting tonight (Friday, September 9th) at 6:00 pm. A Parks rep and the city’s lead fire investigator are slated to attend. You can pre-register for the meeting via Zoom here.

If you spot a fire of any size while out biking, please report it to 911. And think good thoughts for our beloved parks!


UPDATE, 9/11: Portland Fire have arrested three people on suspicion of arson.

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Fred
Fred
23 days ago

I hope the MTNA encourages cycling patrols of Mt Tabor Park – can cover a lot more ground that way, as long as cyclists have lights so they can be seen.

Bryan Morris
Bryan Morris
23 days ago

This is yet another consequence of letting drug addicts take over our parks, trails, and other public spaces. They either burn down their campsites by accident of set the fires intentionally for malicious reasons. There are numerous burned out campsites on the “Needle Trail” portion of the Springwater Trail between 122nd and 82nd.

Mom of Kiddos
Mom of Kiddos
23 days ago
Reply to  Bryan Morris

This is how I see it as well. I used to ride between Sellwood and Boring often and there are just so, so many burned patches, burnt trees, burnt campsites, not to mention trash burning and burnt out cars / RVs. Our mismanagement of MUPs is inspiring me to bike less, and drive my family out of town when I do (no tents or trash or needles on the Banks-Vernonia trail, go figure).

While advocates demand protected lanes and cycletracks so that “timid” cyclists feel safe, the same people have unequivocally surrendered our existing car-free infrastructure to people who make us feel threatened. And these folks are seemingly all brainwashed into thinking this is “compassionate”, or even that the personal safety threat is something that functional members of society deserve to deal with.

We’ve lost so much access in the past 4-5 years, it makes me sick to think about.

J_R
J_R
23 days ago
Reply to  Mom of Kiddos

Comment of the week.

Dwk
Dwk
22 days ago
Reply to  Mom of Kiddos

Common story ignored by Portlands only bike blog.
It’s hard to even fathom how the city comes back now.
Enabled by this blog who admittedly has no power but it would seem that advocacy for bicycle access has been overtaken by a ridiculous acceptance for the status quo and the politicians who are responsible for allowing this to happen.

Bryan Morris
Bryan Morris
22 days ago
Reply to  Dwk

Don’t put it all off on politicians, it was Oregon voters who voted to legalize hard drugs.

anonymous
anonymous
20 days ago
Reply to  Mom of Kiddos

Ive never seen anyone on BikePortland or my city at large who gave me the impression that they think public spaces should be “surrendered”. All the homeless advocates are *just as disgusted as you are*, and if you think otherwise then you clearly arent listening. Our point is not that we should accept homelessness, quite the opposite: we want real solutions (things that already work in other places) instead of just relocating people and making it someone else’s problem. Homeless advocates just as sick as you are of seeing obviously violent and dangerous folks allowed to chop down trees and build their own little crime castles, waving guns at strangers and attacking home owners for months without being stopped. If you want to know why the police dont do anything then I strongly recommend you read the official filings with the city, court records, incident reports etc, instead of the media. Choose your source wisely is all I will say on that topic, aside from the fact that decriminalizing hard drugs was largely supported by police who said it would free them up for more important tasks. Also supported by healthcare professionals with mountains of data on how interacting with the criminal justice system makes people far more likely to use drugs and less likely to quit. Thats not the same as saying “just let them use”. Its just not. Some of us have devoted much of our lives to brutally hard work, and lost people we love, in the fight to end addiction and homelessness, please listen to the experts on this. And stop with the divisive false narratives, nobody is “surrendering” except the political reactionaries who keep repeating this drivel instead of doing their own homework.

dwk
dwk
20 days ago
Reply to  anonymous

What are the solutions if I might ask?
If you don’t think we have surrendered public spaces why are the MUP’s mostly unusable to the public?
The campers at Laurelhurst refuse to leave and are allowed to stay.
Is that not surrendering the space?
Why is the problem worse every year if the homeless advocates are working so hard?
People have agency and cannot be forced into shelters or drug treatment. A lot of them DO NOT WANT to go to either treatment or shelters. We cannot have a civil society if they are allowed to sleep anywhere they want and do what they want.
Beaverton and Gresham have banned tent camping, it appears to be a lot more successful than Portland.
Allowing tent camping has made the problem 10 times worse, what is your REAL solution because I don’t hear any in your post except blaming Mom of Kiddos because she doesn’t like what’s going on.

pigs
pigs
20 days ago
Reply to  dwk

Thats like saying “why is biking in portland still so bad even though the bike advocates are working so hard”. Just because there are advocates does not result in getting anything more than a half ass implementation by the city. Ok great, we lifted tent bans and decriminalized drugs, but then failed to provide shelter and force rehab like the advocates have called for. As usual the city did the easy part and ignored everything else.

Bryan Morris
Bryan Morris
20 days ago
Reply to  pigs

One of the reasons nothing gets done about the root cause of the problem – drug addiction – is because the homeless/drug addiction enabling industrial complex has been allowed to have veto power over any real solutions.

anonymous
anonymous
19 days ago
Reply to  dwk

Correction: some city leaders do give the impression of “surrender”, but it seemed like the comment was directed at homeless advocates, which is needlessly divisive. It is possible for us to condemn destructive criminals in the strongest terms and also, at the same time, feel compassion and willingness to help a fallen neighbor to their feet. You dont have to choose one or the other, you can do both. As far as solutions go, we all know its complicated, so again I defer to the experts. I hear Japan does a good job, and its not like they have unlimited space for people to occupy. The state of Colorado was a good example last I checked, I could be wrong. Im not the only person to say the solutions are out there, nor am I the brightest, my point is that everyone seems to agree on the common sense elements to it and I dont understand where the “us and them” regarding policy is coming from. Is it because you think our city leaders are doing the will of progressive voters? Guess again, their approval rating says it all. Or look at “cap and trade”, a climate action bill that actually increases pollution. With a few exceptions, we dont have progressive leaders or the homeless problem would be solved long ago, we have a revolving door of neo-liberal hucksters. Hence, the first solution I have to offer is: ranked choice voting, a gerrymanderer’s worst nightmare.

Watts
Watts
23 days ago

Thanks to the Mount Tabor Neighborhood Association for rallying volunteers to deal with this potentially disastrous issue!

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
23 days ago

That’s methed up!

PTB
PTB
23 days ago

This is super troubling. I don’t visit Tabor too much these days but I am in Powell Butte literally every week. Powell Butte is one of the things keeping me sane the last few years with all the bullshit going on in the world. If it burned I think I’d absolutely lose my mind with rage. Dogwood Trail is probably one of the lesser used trails and also the flattest area of the park. In the last few years there have been camps in this area and plenty of trash. There are clearly new foot paths being created lately. There’s also a lot of toilet paper kicking around on the sides of the trail down here right now, that’s gross. Given how much car camping happens all around Powell Butte (especially Holgate adjacent to Gates Park, right up to the end of the road) I would not hesitate to say this is dudes getting high and cooking (or something, no idea) and not arson. At least at PB.

I’d also like to say that I’m endlessly upset at the way people abuse our natural areas. No amount of signs will keep people on paths, keep their dogs on leash, keep bags of dogshit from piling on trail sides and keep people from throwing their Starbucks trash or Monster cans or whatever, anywhere they like. I feel like this has really gotten worse since the pandemic started, but maybe I’m just more observant/exhausted by it. People suck.

Matt S.
Matt S.
22 days ago
Reply to  PTB

Everyone’s exhausted by it. My wife and I talk about moving from Portland on a weekly basis. We live close to Tabor and walk up there all the time. We always mention how hard it would be to move away from Tabor. If it burns, I don’t know what we would do.

PTB
PTB
20 days ago
Reply to  Matt S.

Powell Butte for me is your Tabor (but I used to live near Tabor in the 00s and used it allll the time). And same about the conversations you have with your wife. We talk about this quite a bit. We’ve both been in Portland for ages. The Portland we see getting near 50 isn’t the same as the Portland of our 20s, for sure, right? But it’s so different it’s like it’s not even the same city, at all, sometimes.

Tom
Tom
22 days ago

The wind gusts are so high right now, and everything is bone dry, they should close Mnt Tabor to cars until conditions improve and the serial arsonist is caught. Its not worth risking the park. One day a week is not enough. I don’t know why cars would be allowed in the park anyway.

DW
DW
22 days ago

I ride through Mt. Tabor as part of my commute every day. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned is the uptick in RV’s and Vans parked all over Tabor recently. I wonder if, rather than arson, these are the result of accidents on the part of our “houseless neighbors”. Maybe we could offer some free fire safety courses to them so they don’t burn our parks down?

Matt S.
Matt S.
22 days ago
Reply to  DW

On fire education. I suggest that be within the Portland Streets Response purview.

The neighbors shouldn’t tolerate campers at all, my block doesn’t and we confront immediately.

The Grouch =)
The Grouch =)
20 days ago

Three men were just arrested and charged with multiple counts of arson. Will be interesting to see WTF they were thinking.

Chris I
Chris I
19 days ago
Reply to  The Grouch =)
Tabor resident
Tabor resident
19 days ago

Note that the culprits were not homeless. They were teenage males.

Chris I
Chris I
18 days ago
Reply to  Tabor resident

What does them being “teenaged males” (18 year olds), have to do with their housing status? How did you verify said status?