A man with white supremacist ties to North Idaho may have died in a spectacular house fire in southwestern Washington after emergency crews retreated from the scene because they came under heavy gunfire from inside the burning home, authorities said.
The incident occurred Wednesday 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, though authorities were still trying to determine the identities of the human remains found in the rubble Thursday.
Multiple rounds were fired from rifles and handguns for at least 90 minutes Wednesday from inside the house that was burning in the small community of Washougal, police and fire officials said. The gunfire prevented firefighters from dousing the blaze.
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 unsure 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 Thursday 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 1994 incident, sheriff’s deputies confiscated six AK-47 assault rifles 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.
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 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. Roos said then that Stanbary considered Weaver a hero.
In the Washougal incident, no serious injuries were reported from the gunfire, although one bullet pierced the side window of an arriving police car. Clark County sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Allais told reporters a propane tank exploded at one point, sending up a fireball.
The officer declined to discuss a possible motive for the gunfire.
The large residential property included a house and shop. 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 described the couple as pleasant.
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 that he started to videotape the fire on his cellphone and one of the bullets suddenly whizzed 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.