As of 6 p.m. Wednesday, neighborhoods finally re-opened and power restored following a tense situation that began just after 8 a.m. and involved a house fire, explosions and numerous gunshots fired from a Washougal residence.
According to Camas Fire Department Battalion Chief Larry Larimer, emergency crews were called at approximately 8:06 a.m. to a report of a house fire. When firefighters arrived at 3275 “F” Place, just north of Safeway, they were told by police officers that a shooting was in progress.
“We were all told to stay behind this building [the mini-mall on 32nd Street formerly home to Hollywood Video] because there was an active shooting in progress,” Larimer said. “We have just been standing down and developing a plan for when we are needed.”
Larimer said there were three engines and three medic units on scene, positioned at different perimeter locations.
The suspect fired dozens, possibly hundreds, of shots throughout the morning from high-powered rifles and handguns, but police did not return fire.
“They were coming in 20-round bursts,” said Washougal Police Department Sgt. Allen Cook.
A Washougal police officer responding to the scene had his vehicle shot at by the suspect and the window shattered, but he was not injured, according Cook. There were no other reports of injuries to officers or neighbors from the gunshots.
Between 11:40 a.m. and noon, two large fireballs followed by billowing, thick black and white smoke erupted from the scene. At least one of those booms was due to the explosion of a propane tank, according to Clark County Sgt. Kevin Allais. No other homes were damaged by the fire.
All businesses and residences within a four-block perimeter between 32nd and 34th Streets, and between Evergreen Way and Webster Lane were evacuated. Four schools, Hathaway and Gause elementary schools and Washougal and Excelsior high schools, remained locked down until about 3:30 p.m.
Washougal resident Bobby Bean said he was headed into work when he saw flames and smoke coming from the house on “F” PLace. He parked his 1967 Mustang, ran up to the residence, then pounded on the door and tried to open it to see if anyone was inside. Bean said he then heard a man inside shout “Go away!” followed by numerous gunshots that were fired through the house’s front window. “There were a lot of gunshots,” Bean said as he stood at the Minit-Mart on 32nd Street this morning. “It was pretty scary.”
Bean said he ran away and hid behind a Jeep that was parked on the street.
He said he did not know the man inside the house, and wasn’t even able to get a good look at him.
“I could have been shot,” he said, clearly shaken. “But he chose not to shoot me and I am thankful for that.”
“I don’t know anything about him,” Bean added. “I just came to help somebody and I got a little different experience.”
Allen said police hadn’t yet identified the suspect with 100 percent certainty.
“We have a very good idea of who it possibly is, but we aren’t sure,” he said.
According to Clark County property records, the home is owned by Steven D. and Leona M. Stanbary.
During a press conference Wednesday night, Allais said the house and its outbuildings were completely destroyed by the fire, which had burned itself out. It was only just before 6 p.m. that the scene was deemed secure and firefighters were able to douse the property with water.
Law enforcement hadn’t yet located the suspect, but are confident he did not leave the scene and is likely dead.
“[The SWAT team is] very comfortable with the fact that he never broke that containment,” Allais said.
Police were also still trying to determine whether there were any other victims on the property. Some reports indicate that two women also lived in the home.
“We are still actively investigating the whereabouts of those two people,” Allais said.
Dozens of law enforcement and emergency personnel responded to the scene Wednesday, including Washougal, Camas and Vancouver police, the Washougal and Camas fire departments, East County Fire and Rescue, Portland Police Department bomb squad, Washington State Patrol, Clark County Sheriff’s Office and Southwest Washington Regional SWAT Team.
Allais said the incident will be investigated jointly by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as the Vancouver and Washougal police departments.
“We will be containing a portion of that block for a couple of days, while we begin the tedious process of investigating this incident,” he said. “Any type of investigation is going to be a long, drawn out process.”