Fire ravages four-plex in Madison South Neighborhood

Find out what surprised firefighters in one of the apartments, as they battled this residential blaze …

Portland Fire & Rescue firefighters tear off portions of the roof to extinguish the flames traveling through the attic.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Although Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews arrived within minutes of getting the call, at 2:44 p.m. on March 1, a fire that broke out in a single-story 1970s-era ranch-style four-plex in the 2100 block of NE 80th Avenue was already belching out thick clouds of smoke; fire was visible.

When we arrived on-scene, firefighters with PF&R’s Engine 19, Truck 7, and Engine 28 were already opening the roof of the building to release heat, and pour water on the fire.

“People were home at the time,” commented PF&R spokesman, Lt. Allen Oswalt. “We had reports that the residents smelled, then saw, smoke. There were several calls to 9-1-1 before any of the smoke alarms – which were working – went off.”

Because it’s a multi-family dwelling, firefighters from several stations are called to fight the fire.

Older construction endangers building
Observing the firefighters at work as they opened up more of the roof, Oswald observed, “There’s probably very little or no ‘fire block’ between the units because of the older construction; when the units share a common attic, it allows fire to spread more easily.”

Soon, only wisps of smoke were visible, but the apartment units looked heavily damaged by smoke and water. “Fortunately, we got a quick knock-down that kept the fire from spreading to other buildings or homes in the area,” Oswalt said.

Large sections of the roof from this older four-plex had to be removed so firefighters could completely extinguish the blaze.

Pot grow discovered
When we noticed Portland Police Bureau drug unit officers on the scene, we asked why they had been called to the fire.

“There was a marijuana grow in one of the units,” a DVD officer told us. “Originally, they thought there was a ‘theft-of-service’ from Pacific Power and Light.”

Oswalt asked questions of the firefighters and told us, “Investigators say they checked; they believe that the ‘pot grow’ and the fire were not associated. It does not look to be a theft of power.”

We later asked Portland Police Bureau spokesperson, Detective Mary Wheat, about the pot grow. “As far as I can see from our records, this is a Fire Bureau investigation,” she replied.

Following up on this fire, PF&R’s Lt. Damon Simmons later reported that the fire was listed as “Accidental – Electrical”.

Quick response by Portland Fire & Rescue kept this fire from spreading to other units – or nearby houses. That’s Madison High School in the background.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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