A public safety meeting Sunday in Arlington will address recent suspicious fires and criminal mischief gripping the community of about 600 people.
The latest fire destroyed a one-story house the night of March 16 on West First Street, about two blocks away from where historic Arlington Church of the Nazarene was burned to the ground Nov. 12, 2013 by an unknown arsonist.
Authorities are not exactly sure what started the house fire, but Gilliam County Sheriff Gary Bettencourt said he believes it, too, was caused by arson. A family stayed in the house seasonally, but was not there at the time of the blaze. Power was turned off inside the home, Bettencourt said, and neighbors did not report seeing anybody enter or leave during the day.
Nobody was hurt and no other structures damaged, though elsewhere the same night someone slashed the tires on nine vehicles parked west of Main Street, Bettencourt said. The incidents are under investigation.
Meanwhile, the culprit who torched the landmark 114-year-old Arlington Nazarene church remains on the loose. The building was targeted twice in 2013 -- once in July, and again in November. Both times were under the cover of early morning darkness.
A $10,000 reward is available for anyone with information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case. So far, police have no new leads or suspects. There is no concrete evidence connecting the fires, Bettencourt said, other than their suspicious nature.
Two more late-night grass fires were also reported in June 2013, one on the hillside below Arlington Elementary School and another near a local RV park. Oregon State Police ruled those were started intentionally, but again could not determine if they were connected.
In yet another incident reported Jan. 11, someone threw a piece of cinder block through the glass front doors of the Nazarene church youth center where services are being held until the congregation can rebuild. Damage was estimated at $800. A truck in the parking lot was also vandalized, with the phrases "WWJD" and "Catch me if you can" scratched into the paint.
Residents are understandably worried, Bettencourt said, and wondering now who might be targeted next. The public meeting, which is set for 4 p.m. in the elementary school cafeteria, will provide an update on police investigations and let people know who to contact with information.
"It's going to take the whole village," Bettencourt said. "We can't do it by ourselves."
Gilliam County has six officers, including Bettencourt, responsible for patrolling Arlington and the city of Condon located 37 miles away. Four sheriff's deputies live in Arlington, and they are just as concerned as residents are about putting an end to the crime, Bettencourt said.
"It's not like we aren't working on this every day," he said. "We're definitely in the neighborhood, talking to people."
Arlington Mayor Jeff Bufton has said the city remains confident in law enforcement to gain a handle on the situation. But Bettencourt added it is important for residents to remain vigilant and immediately call police if they notice anything unusual happening around town.
Arlington is a safe place to live, Bettencourt said, but unfortunately they are dealing with an unsafe individual. Deputies will continue to follow up on every call until the case is resolved and residents can rest easy, he said.
"Obviously, we have somebody with issues," Bettencourt said. "We just need to be vigilant and neighborly, and watch out for each other."
The Gilliam County Sheriff's Office can be reached at 541-384-2851.
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-564-4547.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.
Read more on wallowa.com