ASHLAND, Ore. – The homeless man blamed for a fire that destroyed 11 homes in Ashland was a familiar face to many residents of the southern Oregon town.
The Ashland Daily Tidings reports that John David Thiry was a regular fixture outside many stores in the city – stores that have asked police to remove him many times.
“We’ve dealt with him on a number of occasions,” said Ashland police Sgt. Bob Smith.
Thiry, 40, was being held at the Jackson County Jail on $500,000 bail after he was charged with 10 counts of reckless endangering and 14 counts of reckless burning for the Tuesday fire.
Thiry is accused of accidentally starting the blaze that destroyed the houses and prompted a large-scale evacuation of the Ashland neighborhood, along with shutting down traffic in town and on Interstate 5 for several hours Tuesday afternoon. No injuries were reported.
The newspaper said Thiry often appeared disheveled and would randomly yell and scream to himself.
“He has caused a lot of trouble around here,” said Cody Wills, who works at a gas station near the burned neighborhood. “We’ve called the police on him.”
Wills said the store stopped selling Thiry beer after he challenged a manager to a fight.
Johnny Marler, 50, said he has known Thiry for six years. Both live on the street and have spoken at various times over the years.
“John’s a good dude, but he can change in a minute,” Marler said. “Sometimes he could get violent with people. He wasn’t afraid of anyone.”
Marler was relaxing in his hammock strung up between two trees when the fire started Tuesday. Marler had stored his belongings in the old barn when it caught fire and burned to the ground within minutes.
He said Thiry was in the area and had most likely started the fire by accident.
“I know John wouldn’t start this on purpose,” Marler said. “He probably dropped a cigarette or something.”