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Portland wildland firefighter gets his stolen van back, but not his fire gear

Jason Starkey had just gotten back from Arizona and New Mexico, where he'd been fighting fires, when his car was stolen out of his parking lot.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Between mid-April and the beginning of June, Jason Starkey spent most of his time battling wildfires in Arizona and New Mexico with his team of wildland firefighters. It's a job he's done for more than nineteen seasons. 

"We're usually working side by side with a hotshot crew or attacking it ourselves if there are no hotshots on the line," Starkey explained. "We cut what they call a fire line ... ahead of the fire, which is removing the fuel from it so when it comes it has nothing to eat, and it starves out before it can jump to the buffet which is the uncut forest."

When he finally returned to Oregon, he parked his van in the parking lot outside of his apartment building. Inside the van were some of his high-quality camping gear and firefighting equipment, things that Starkey left in the van without thinking much of it.

Unfortunately, thieves swooped in by the next morning — stealing the car, plus everything inside.

"I filed a report immediately with Portland police. Then I went and filed with [my apartment building] management and they said, unfortunately, there are no cameras in the section where my car got stolen from," Starkey said. 

He believed the total loss was somewhere between $7,000 and $10,000 for the kind of gear required for wildland firefighting.

Starkey said friends were finding ways to help out, but it's still a tough blow. And oddly enough, it wasn't the pricey firefighting gear that he was most concerned about. 

"Whoever took my car — please don't destroy my car," he pleaded. "That's the hardest thing to replace ... and I hope whatever situation you're in, that my top-of-the-line camping gear makes your life more comfortable, and you use that opportunity to better yourself."

On June 15, Starkey provided an update to KGW. Portland police found his van, along with several other stolen vehicles, near Southeast 92nd Street and Division. According to Starkey, the van had been "completely gutted" and all of his fire gear was gone — but, he got it back.

"The damage," Starkey said, "they removed every identifiable sticker from inside and out."

Starkey said that the van is still drivable, but it will need some work before it's really functional again.

Credit: Jason Starkey

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