Ore. firefighters shot at while responding to house fire

A 60-year-old man is dead after police say he opened fire on responders arriving to put out a nearby house fire, which police now believe he set himself

By Chelsea Deffenbacher
The Register-Guard

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. — A 60-year-old man is dead after Springfield police say he opened fire on emergency responders arriving to put out a nearby house fire, which police now believe the gunman set himself.

Springfield police Lt. Scott McKee said the “highly unusual” and “dynamic” situation began around 4 a.m. Wednesday on Oakdale Avenue near Gateway St., when Eugene Springfield Fire crews were called to the scene of a structure fire.

“They started setting up their apparatus, charging fire hoses, getting ready to fight the fire, and at that point it was a fully involved structure fire in this densely populated residential area,” McKee said. But before the firefighters could begin putting out the blaze, a man began shooting, striking the windshield of the fire truck several times.

The firefighters took cover and reported to police that they were being ambushed. Springfield police officers also were met with gunfire “by a shooter who was wandering around in the shadows next to the house that was on fire,” McKee said. Meanwhile, the fire was spreading to other homes, completely burning three and damaging one more.

The officers also took cover, with one crouched behind a car in a nearby driveway where he was under fire, McKee said.

Eugene police and the Lane County sheriff’s deputies rushed to the scene, and Eugene police with an armored Bearcat vehicle evacuated the Springfield officer pinned down behind the car. Police then moved toward where the shooter was last seen.

“They heard a single gunshot in the front yard of a house to the west and then they encountered (the alleged gunman) on the ground, deceased, apparently the victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” McKee said.

Smoke was still visible at sunrise from at least one of the three homes that burned. All three appeared to have been completely destroyed, with efforts to save them delayed by the shooting. After the presumed gunman was found dead, police officers picked up fire hoses and helped fight the fire, McKee said.

McKee said the presumed shooter was found dead in the front yard of a fourth residence. The residents of the burning homes are all believed to have evacuated, and no one else was hurt, McKee said. He said the fire marshal was going through each residence to ensure no other victims were inside. The fire took place about 200 feet from the Eugene Springfield Fire Station 5.

“It could have been a heck of a lot worse,” McKee said.

Police believe that the man intentionally started the fire to draw emergency responders into an ambush, McKee said.

“Emergency responders encountered a very scary situation this morning,” Eugene Springfield Fire posted on Facebook Wednesday morning. “Shots were fired at them while they were setting up equipment to fight the fire.

“We are happy to report crews are safe. Thank you Eugene Police and Springfield Police for making it safe once again,” the Facebook post said.

Oakdale Avenue was closed to traffic.

The presumed shooter lives in the neighborhood, but it was unclear if one of the four homes involved was his. Police were looking to speak with the man’s next of kin in hopes of gaining some understanding about what had occurred.

American Red Cross officials in a press release Wednesday said six people and one pet were affected by the fire.

Copyright 2018 The Register-Guard


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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