A man with white supremacist ties to North Idaho may have died in a spectacular house fire in which an occupant delivered a barrage of gun shots while the home burned in Washougal, Wash., on Wednesday.
The incident occurred on the anniversary of a 1984 siege that led to the death of Robert J. Mathews, a white supremacist who helped found an organization known as The Order while in North Idaho.
It raises questions whether the homeowner, Steven D. Stanbary, sought to die in a blaze of glory, although no body has been recovered yet from the burned rubble of the home.
Authorities said multiple rounds were fired from rifles and handguns for at least 90 minutes Wednesday from inside the house that was burning in southwest Washington. The gunfire prevented firefighters from dousing the blaze.
There was no sign of a body in the smoldering ruins of the Washougal home, but Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Allais said Wednesday evening he’s confident the man did not get past a SWAT team that surrounded the house.
The Vancouver, Wash., Columbian reports the house has been owned since 2002 by Steven D. and Leona M. Stanbary.
It is apparently the same Stanbary involved in incidents in Bonner County in the 1990s.
Authorities were not sure whether anyone else was in the house. The Columbian reported that the man’s wife and her sister also lived at the home.
The Columbian said late this morning that the whereabouts of the three were not known, and that a relative had posted on Facebook a belief that the three were dead. A dog was found shot to death in the rubble.
In 1995, Steven Douglas Stanbary was sentenced to three months in jail for simple assault in Bonner County after authorities found numerous weapons in his home, according to an Associated Press story at the time.
In the incident, sheriff’s deputies confiscated six AK-47s and more than 20 other rifles, three handguns, several shotguns, a flak jacket, a grenade launcher, gas masks and thousands of rounds of ammunition from Stanbary’s home in 1994.
Stanbary was arrested after an undercover officer used a ruse to get him out of the house and his children to safety, according to the Associated Press. He was accused of aggravated assault, according to Bonner County court records.
He had threatened to kill his ex-wife, his children and himself.
Bonner County Sheriff Chip Roos at the time said that the incident had the potential to become a siege similar to the standoff with white supremacist Randy Weaver and his family in Boundary County in 1992.
In the Washougal incident, no serious injuries were reported from the gunfire, although one bullet pierced the side window of an arriving police car. Allais, of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, told reporters a propane tank exploded at one point, sending up a fireball.
Allais said officers planned to begin searching the rubble today. Major crimes detectives and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were expected to be on the scene.
The officer declined to discuss a possible motive for the gunfire.
The large residential property included a house and shop. The gunfire forced firefighters to let the fire burn itself out and the buildings were destroyed.
Fire crews responded about 8 a.m. Wednesday. The fire burned through the day.
A neighbor, Gerald Anderson, told The Columbian he heard rapid gunfire as he got up about 8 a.m. From his garage, he saw his neighbors’ house ablaze, then officers and emergency personnel swarmed the area.
Anderson said Steve Stanbary often did yard work for neighbors. He said the couple were pleasant people.
Bobby Bean, 53, of Washougal, was taking his car to the shop when he spotted the fire, called 911 and pounded on the front door. He told The Oregonian a man inside shouted, “Get out of here!” Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Schanaker said the man then fired several shots through a front window.
“There were a lot of gunshots,” Bean recalled. “It was pretty scary. It seemed like 100 years — everything was a blur.”
Witness Travis McMahon told KGW-TV of Portland, Ore., that he started to videotape the fire on his cell phone and one of the bullets suddenly whizzed right by his head.
“You can hear it (on the video) literally, go right past me, fffffft, right by my head,” he said.
Police evacuated nearby houses; four schools were temporarily locked down.
No police fired their weapons, officers said.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.