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WASHOUGAL — As flames shot skyward and gunfire blazed incessantly, police on Wednesday attempted to determine if a man thought to be inside a Washougal home was alive or dead — and if it was safe to send firefighters in to control the blaze.
The man apparently set the home on fire and then shot a variety of high-powered rifles and handguns for at least 90 minutes on Wednesday, a sheriff’s sergeant said later in the evening. Hundreds of rounds were expended. “There was a propane tank that exploded once and put a fireball in the air,” the sergeant added.
There were no arrests following the event at 3275 F Place, but there were no signs the suspect was still active, nor that he had escaped, said Clark County Sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Allais, with the major crimes team.
“We don’t know where he is at,” said Allais. The sergeant later said Washougal police and SWAT officers surrounded the home and were confident the man didn’t escape.
Firefighters quelled the daylong fire shortly after 6 p.m. Thursday promises to be a gruesome day as officials comb the site. The house built in 1972 has been owned by Steven D. and Leona M. Stanbary since 2002, according to Clark County property records.
According to a 1995 Associated Press story, Steven Douglas Stanbary was arrested for domestic violence assault at a home in Bonner County, Idaho. "He had enough ammunition for World War III," then-sheriff, Chip Roos, said at the time. Roos said Stanbary considered anti-government figure Randy Weaver a hero. Stanbary later served a 90-day jail sentence.
The Washougal chain of events started just after 8 a.m. when neighbors reported smoke coming from the home. Bobby Bean of Washougal and another passer-by ran to the home to see if anyone needed help. They were met by a shadowy figure of a man who told them to leave, said Sgt. Scott Schanaker, a sheriff’s office spokesman.
Just then Bean said someone in the home fired shots through the door. A bullet pierced the front driver’s side window of an arriving Washougal police patrol car and passed through the front seat, exiting out the passenger side window. One officer reportedly had cuts from glass on his right arm. A Washougal officer said later that at least two bullets barely missed the first arriving officer and said that officer was “pretty shaken up.”
“The gunman used magazine after magazine,” during the day, the officer said, "as fast as he could pull the trigger."
Gerald Anderson, who lives at 3245 F Place, said he heard rapid gunfire as he got up about 8 a.m. The gunshots persisted. From his garage, he saw his neighbors’ house ablaze. Then, officers and emergency personnel swarmed the area.
“They won’t let us out of our house,” he said by telephone at midmorning.
Anderson said he knew the couple because Steve Stanbary often did yardwork for neighbors. He didn’t think anything was amiss in the quiet home. He never heard fighting and thought the Stanbarys were pleasant people. Leona Stanbary’s sister also lives at the home, Anderson said.
“You don’t expect things like this going on in your neighborhood,” Anderson said.
Gary LaPlonte said his in-laws — who live on F Place also had yardwork done by Stanbary.
“It was a shock to my father-in-law” to hear what happened, he said. LaPlonte never met the people who live in the home, but heard they were nice.
At least six fire engines from East County Fire & Rescue and the Washougal, Camas and Vancouver fire departments responded to the reports of the house fire, but had to wait in the street near Evergreen Marketplace until police secured the area.
“There are more cops than I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Chief Scott Koehler of East County Fire & Rescue.
At one point, Koehler guessed there were at least 50 officers at the scene. They represented Washougal, Camas, Vancouver, Battle Ground and Portland police departments; the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, Washington State Patrol and the Southwest Washington Regional SWAT Team.
After reports of shots fired, police evacuated nearby stores and told neighbors to stay in their homes.
Police activity drew several nearby Washougal residents out of their homes. Ezekiel Singh, who lives near state Highway 14, spent several hours watching police activity outside a gas station at the intersection of Evergreen Way and 32nd Street.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in this little town, nothing this big,” he said.
Popping noises could be heard in the area as a black plume of smoke rose into the air. At one point, a propane tank exploded, putting a large fireball and smoke ring into the air.
The Washougal School District had four schools in lockdown from 8:30 a.m. until shortly before 4 p.m. They were Hathaway Elementary, Gause Elementary, Washougal High School, and Excelsior High School.
Police remained on the F Place scene through the evening. Neighborhood streets were closed for hours while SWAT officers attempted to secure the area. Police barricades on Evergreen were lifted in early afternoon and 32nd Street was opened around 5:30 p.m.
The fire eventually burned itself out, Allais said. Police expected to start looking through the scene Thursday morning, once things cooled.
Asked at the scene Wednesday evening how many persons were dead in the ruins of the house, Allais replied, “We don’t know.”
Allais said a motive for the shooting had been established, but he was not going to release it until the investigation was further along. The Regional Major Crime Unit with the sheriff’s office and the Vancouver Police Department, as well as the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, were expected to be on scene.
Reporters Eric Florip, Laura McVicker, John Branton and Craig Brown contributed to this story.