‘Careless smoking’ causes Mill Park apartment blaze that threaten elderly residents

Find out what extra steps firefighters took to make sure this fire didn’t burn down the entire apartment building …

SE 122nd Avenue traffic slows to a crawl, as Portland Fire & Rescue rigs pull up to begin fighting an apartment building fire.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Most fire calls come into the 9-1-1 Center. But, in the early evening hours of February 4, the alarm was sounded in person – when a man pounded on the door of Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Station 7 at about 7:39 p.m.

“The apartments are on fire,” was the message the distraught and out-of-breath man delivered – referring to the El Moro Apartments at 2016 SE 122nd Avenue, about five blocks south of the fire station.

From inside the burning unit, and on the roof, crews from multiple stations attack the fire.

“As firefighters arrived on scene,” PF&R Public Information Officer Anthony Schaffer told East Portland News, “they saw smoke coming from the back of one of the single-story units – and that unit was fully involved in fire.”

Firefighters determined that everyone had safely evacuated, Schaffer added, although there was an initial concern that a blind person might have been trapped in one of the apartments.

From inside the burning unit, firefighters attacked the blaze. “As they began to pull ceiling down, firefighters saw that fire was racing through a common attic – it’s open the entire length of the building. That’s something we see in older apartment buildings out here.”

Completing their “trench cut”, firefighters work swiftly to keep the fire from spreading overhead through the common attic to other apartments.

Because the strong east winds kept whipping up the fire, and blowing in through attic block holes, the Incident Commander called for a second alarm at 7:49 p.m., bringing additional resources, firefighters, and apparatus to the scene.
Schaffer pointed out to us the firefighters who were cutting a wide, rectangular hole in the roof. “They’re making a ‘trench cut’. This is a cut from the roof peak, all the way to the gutter line, so that we can get the fire to escape through the opening, and not spread [across the attic].”

A strong stream of water, shot into the attic space through the trench cut by this firefighter, causes the building’s insulation to splash out and onto the rooftop.

The technique was successful. The fire was brought under control at 8:15 p.m.

“An elderly woman was treated at the scene by Portland firefighter-paramedics for smoke inhalation, but did not require transport to a hospital,” Schaffer said. “A Tri-Met bus was brought in to shelter evacuees, and to keep them warm, and the Red Cross is on-scene assisting two residents to find alternate housing.”

A firefighter tosses a shovel-full of “overhaul” – ember-hiding debris – from the now charred apartment, which was damaged by “careless smoking”.

The following day, Schaffer said that a PF&R Fire Investigator determined that the fire was caused by “careless smoking”. Damage is estimated at $100,000.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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