A 24-year-old Bend man has been arrested on arson, burglary and other charges in a fire Saturday night that tore through an RV and boat parked in a northeast Bend driveway and damaged the garage of an adjacent home, police said late Sunday.
Officers credited an alert neighbor who saw a suspect identified as Lee Vern Helms, 24, running from the area and followed him to his home, then contacted police.
Police and fire crews responded around 10:20 p.m. Saturday to the RV on fire at Mark Larson’s home at 2478 NE Lynda Lane. They arrived to find the camper fully engulfed and the flames threatening nearby structures, said Corporal Rob Emerson. The flames eventually spread to a ski boat parked near the camper and the garage.
Neighbors, police and passers-by helped evacuate the home’s occupants, as well as those of two neighboring homes on Lynda Lane and Weeping Willow Drive, Emerson said.
During the investigation, officers learned vehicles in the neighborhood had been broken into around the same time, “indicating the fire was likely caused by arson,” the corporal said.
A neighbor who was leaving their home just before police arrived saw a suspicious person running from the area, Emerson said.
The woman followed the man, later identified as Lee Vern Helms, 24, to his home in the 2200 block of NE Wells Acres Road. Emerson said she also saw several police cars responding to the area, realized the man might have committed a crime and called police.
Officers contacted Helms at his home and he was arrested on a Deschutes County warrant for probation violation.
On Sunday, police got more information that led them to raid Helms’ home, where they found evidence linking him to the arson and car break-ins, Emerson said. They also found a small amount of methamphetamine in his home.
Helms was being held Sunday at the Deschutes County Jail on $160,000 bail, facing charges of first-degree arson, first-degree criminal mischief, second-degree burglary, reckless endangering, reckless burning and two counts of unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle, as well as the probation violation warrant.
Bend Fire Battalion Chief Bob Madden said crews arrived to find both the camper, a large 2011 Arctic Fox pickup camper with slideouts, and the boat fully involved, with venting propane tanks.
The fire also had broken windows in the home’s garage door and was spreading into and along the outside walls of the garage, he added.
Firefighters quickly knocked down the fire, limiting damage to the garage, but the camper and 1984 Bayliner ski boat were destroyed.
A neighbor, Amber Newlin, praised firefighters for their quick work.
"By the time we saw it, we could already hear the sirens," she said in a posting to KTVZ's Facebook page.
Trisda Field said she and her fiancée spotted the blaze on the way to visit family nearby, and were among those who called 911. She said her fiancée got the residents and neighbors out of their homes; she too offered "thanks to all the firemen, police and others who helped keep everyone safe."
Larson declined to talk on camera Sunday but also offered thanks to Bend fire and police, as well as the neighbors who alerted them to the blaze.
Losses were estimated at $26,000 to the camper, $5,000 to the boat and $10,000 to the home.