Cause of Centennial apartment fire still a mystery

What is known is that this blaze did dislocate two families, and caused a lot of grief for many more, who lived at this Centennial apartment house. We’ve got the story, and photos, for you …

Working their way between a fence and the building, Portland Fire & Rescue crews attack the apartment fire that threatened this Centennial Neighborhood residential building. Dick Harris, Portland Fire & Rescue photo

Story and some photos by David F. Ashton
Investigators still haven’t announced how one second-story apartment unit was set ablaze in a December 31 fire at 1640 SE 162nd Ave.

Four minutes after the call came in at 3:00 p.m., firefighters were on-scene. “They reported seeing heavy smoke and fire from the top floor of the apartment building,” said Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) spokesperson Kim Kosmas.

A PF&R firefighter keeps a close eye on the fire, while other crew members haul a water line up to the blazing unit. Dick Harris, Portland Fire & Rescue photo

When we arrived, we noticed that the apartment buildings were tucked back onto a “flag lot”, well east of SE 162nd Avenue, which complicated firefighting efforts.

Firefighters made an aggressive attack on the fire – first from outside the blazing apartment, then from the interior of the building, and finally on the roof. “At the same time, other crews searched apartment units, checking for any possible fire victims,” Kosmas stated. “Four adult occupants had had already been evacuated.”

Firefighters check for attic damage by examining the building’s roof.

Crews, their “overhaul tubs” in hand, get ready to go inside the burned apartment unit to check for embers and to remove fire refuse.

Firefighters also checked on residents of an extended-care facility which was located between the street and the apartment complex. Although there was a large lawn between the two structures, and it appeared as if none of the care center patients were in danger, crews evacuated some of the patients as a precaution, while others were sheltered in place.

It took crews about 20 minutes to quench the blaze, Kosmas reported. “The fire was contained before it could extend to the structure’s attic or other units.”

Clearly, the contents of this apartment unit were consumed by the fire.

While no injuries were reported, four adults from the fire-affected unit and two adults with one 20 month old from the apartment below the fire unit were displaced, Kosmas said. The American Red Cross Willamette Chapter helped affected individuals to find temporary shelter.

As of this writing, PF&R investigators have yet to release a cause for the fire, or a damage estimate.

SE 162nd Avenue was shut down for hours, while firefighters made sure the blaze was completely extinguished.

>> Front Page photo courtesy of Dick Harris, Portland Fire & Rescue

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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