Faulty fan sparks apartment blaze

The damage caused by this overheated electric appliance could have been much worse. As the seasons change, there’s a lesson to be learned by everyone …

Firefighters from five Portland Fire & Rescue stations made sure this apartment fire didn’t get out of hand.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It was another warm evening, on September 25, for the residents of the garden-style apartments in the 2700 block of SE 51st Avenue at SE Clinton Street.

An older oscillating fan was running in the rear bedroom window of a second story apartment to help draw cool air through, as the occupants were watching a late-evening TV show. About 10:00 p.m., one resident got up to check on her cats.

She was alarmed to see the fan ablaze, as well as a nearby futon and clothing.

“We got a fire extinguisher from the hallway,” a resident who declined to identify herself said. “But it wasn’t working. If it had been, we could have put out the fire ourselves.”

The alarm sounded at Portland Fire & Rescue at 10:04 p.m.; Woodstock-based Engine and Truck 25 raced to the building. The crews rolled up three minutes after the call and saw smoke and fire coming from the back of the apartment building, according to Portland Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief District 4 Jim Forquer.

After putting out the blaze, firefighters stand by, in case hidden fire erupts.

“Our crews found fire burning out the back window,” Forquer told us. “It extended up into the eves, and there was a little extension into the attic.”

Because it was an apartment house fire, additional firefighters were called to the scene. Engine 9, Engine 23, Engine 19, and Truck 4 were soon in front of the building. Their crews pulled five hose lines up the exterior stairway. Truck 25 extended its long ladder from the street up to the roof of the apartment building, delivering water lines and firefighters to the top of the burning structure.

“The first crews got a quick knock-down on the fire, entering through the front door,” Forquer said. “And, other crews got onto the roof quickly. We were able to get the roof open, and start ventilation quickly.”

Because the six occupants of the apartment unit ran from their burning building, not all of them could be located. “We rapidly determined that there wasn’t anyone inside the burning unit,” mentioned Forquer. “The occupants were all found outside, and all right.”

Although they couldn’t locate all of the residents initially, firefighters learned everyone escaped without injury.

Firefighters used just enough water to put out the fire, Forquer said. “The one unit is heavily damaged, but it looks like the other folks will be able to move back in tonight; there’s one family displaced.”

According to Fire Bureau records, the second battalion chief on scene discovered the burned out fan motor, scorched by intense heat, on the ground outside of the unit. Inside the burned-out bedroom, firefighters later found a heavily damaged electrical cord next to clothing stored on a wood futon bed frame.

The family living in the unit displaced by the fire, that included four adults and two children, ages 9 and 10, were relocated to nearby lodging with their two dog, according to Kim Upham, public affairs officer with American Red Cross – Oregon Trail Chapter. “However, two young cats perished fire. Three Red Cross volunteers assisted the family with shelter, food and clothing.”

Cool weather brings fire potential
“As we come into cooler weather, be careful with heating units that haven’t been used during the summer,” cautioned Portland Fire & Rescue spokesman, Lt. Allen Oswalt. “Check out electrical heaters – especially the power cords – and make sure they are in good working condition. Because they draw much more electrical current than fans, make sure heater cords run clear of flammable materials – and don’t use extension cords.”

Additionally, Oswalt noted, make sure that no flammable materials are near baseboard and forced-air electrical heaters. “And remember, now is a good time to check your smoke detectors. Make sure they’re working; they save lives.”

Even though this unit was heavily damaged by fire and smoke, fast action by firefighters saved the other apartments in the structure from damage.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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