2-Alarm Red’s Electric fire draws crowd; does $300,000 in damage

Not since the Division/Clinton Street Parade and Fair have we seen such a crowd in this inner SE Portland neighborhood. See exclusive photos and learn what fire investigators have to say about this blaze‚

The commercial building fire at SE 20th Ave. and Clinton St. burns so fast and hot, a second alarm is called just eleven minutes after the first.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Not often do we arrive on-scene at a fire and see flames leaping high out of a structure. Typically, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) firefighters have already gotten the blaze out before we get there.

On June 11, Jim Farris, the owner of Red’s Electric, closed his business as usual. But an hour later, at 6:00 p.m., people were gathering on the sidewalks nearby to watch, as firefighters raced to his warehouse‚ now belching smoke‚ on SE Clinton St., just west of SE 20th Avenue.

“There was a lot of smoke coming out of it,” area resident Sarah Hendrickson tells us. “Then, flames started shooting up the side of the building. The wind was blowing and I thought the fire might damage other buildings.”

When PF&R Engine Company 23 pulls up, three minutes after receiving the call, they see thick, heavy smoke billowing from the eaves of the residential electrical contractor’s warehouse.

Firefighters enter the company’s office and cover equipment and records to minimize damage.

“Firefighters are making an aggressive interior attack on the fire,” reports the bureau’s Lt. Allen Oswalt, “but heavy smoke and intense heat from the burning plastic coating on wire coils, and other electrical supplies, are giving off extremely dense smoke and high heat.”

While many firefighters concentrate on the fire in the warehouse, other crewmembers race to reduce smoke and water damage to in the building’s office. They crawl in a broken window, and quickly wrap file cabinets and computers in plastic to help protect them from debris and water.

As fire and smoke build, the Battalion Chief orders firefighters out of the building.

The fire continues to escalate. Battalion Chief Chris Babcock orders the firefighters out of the building, and calls for a second alarm at 6:11 p.m., bringing more firefighters and equipment to the scene.

“Every time they’d bust open a hole, flames shot everywhere,” says neighbor Ruthie Berry. “My friend owns a music studio in the building next door. I’m concerned that the fire will spread to the other buildings.”

Firefighters douse flames from the outside for 15 minutes, then snug up their breathing gear and head back inside and extinguish the main body of the fire.

Dousing the building with water from the outside, firefighters quell the blazing inferno fueled by plastic-covered wire inside the warehouse.

We see Ferris pull up on scene, look at his building on fire, and walk over to the Battalion Chief’s vehicle.

By 6:44 p.m., the fire is out; but firefighters remain scene for several hours. “It will take a while for firefighters to ‘overhaul’‚ dig through the rubble‚ to make sure no hidden hot spots might flare up later,” says Oswalt.

Myra walks up and tells us she’s lived in the neighborhood for thirty years. “I’ve used Red’s Electric in the past,” she says. “It is a good, responsible business. But I think they sold the place; the timing of this fire seems odd.”

Ferris later tells reporters that, while the building hasn’t yet been sold, a contract of sale is pending on the property. He says they were planning to move into a new location in about six months.

To keep the adjoining structure‚ just inches away‚ from catching on fire, firefighters shoot streams of water between the buildings.

“Investigators have listed the cause of the fire as undetermined. The cause is not suspicious,” Oswalt tells us, “but the investigation is continuing. Damage to the building and contents is estimated to be $300,000.”

No one was in the building at the time of the fire, Oswalt adds; all workers had gone home by the time the fire was discovered. “There were no injuries to firefighters or civilians.”

PF&R’s Public Information Officer, Lt. Allen Oswalt, confers with fire crews.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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