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Postal arson a federal crime, says USPS customer service agent

An unknown arsonist ruined much of the mail dropped into the Gaston Post Office’s drive-up mailbox between 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, and 5:30 a.m. Monday, Dec. 24.

The flaming mailbox was discovered by an early-morning dog walker, who had no cell phone so instead rushed several blocks to call for help from the pay phone outside the Gaston Market.

The man (whose contact information was not recorded) then waited at the scene until Gaston firefighters arrived to find “small flames and heavy smoke” coming from the drop slot, according to a report by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office.

Inside the mailbox, along with the heavily damaged mail, firefighters found the remains of a motor oil container with a wick, which was used to start the fire.

Postmaster Frank Newsome collected the damaged mail and forwarded it to the USPS Consumer Affairs Division in Portland.

Ron Anderson, the division’s customer relations coordinator, said some of the mail was salvageable but much was completely destroyed. Any letters with readable delivery addresses will be sent to their destinations. If the delivery address is not readable, but the return address is, letters will be returned to their senders. If neither address is readable, postal inspectors may look inside the mail for clues as to the sender or destination.

People who suspect their letters were damaged should check with their intended receipients, Anderson said. If the mail hasn’t shown up at either end in two weeks, he said, “it’s probably completely destroyed.”

Because the arson affected a U.S. Post Office, it is a federal crime and the Postal Inspection Service is handling the investigation, Anderson said.

But so far tips are few. None have yet come in to the Sheriff’s office at 503-629-0111, said public information officer Bob Ray.

Ken Bilderback, public information officer for Gaston Fire, said he hadn’t heard any solid information locally either. “There’s lots of gossip,” he said, “but mainly all I’ve heard is, ‘Who in the world would do such a thing?’”

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