House fire in Lents damages near 100-year-old home

Although it’s a bit unclear what started the fire, fast action by firefighters clearly kept damage at this ‘heritage home’ at a relative minimum. Here’s the story …

Portland Fire & Rescue firefighters pulled their hose lines quite a distance from their trucks, to the basement of this home on SE 115th Avenue in Lents – fully involved in fire.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Since 1903, the stately farmhouse in the 5300 block of SE 115th Avenue, a bit north of SE Harold Street – and probably the only home in the area, at the time it was built – has withstood the test of time in the Lents Neighborhood.

But, at 9:29 p.m. on April 27 its residents smelled smoke, called Portland Fire & Rescue, and got out, suspecting that a fire had broken out in the basement.

At 9:33 p.m., the Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crew riding Engine 11 rolled up. “They reported seeing light smoke when they came on-scene,” PF&R District 3 Battalion Chief Chris Babcock told us a few minutes later.

Firefighters work in, under, and around the house, to make sure the fire damage is limited as much as possible.

Because it was a “working fire”, another fire station was dispatched, as the Engine 11 crew ran hose lines from their pumper across the wide front lawn to the home’s basement.

“Firefighters were able to quickly knock down the fire,” Babcock told us at the scene. “But, they carefully checked the first and second stories to look for fire extensions up the inside walls.”

Babcock explained that they double check to make sure the fire is, indeed, out – because many older homes were built using “balloon frame”. (The odd name comes from a French type of construction, “maison en boulin”). “With long timbers that run from the basement to the rooftop, it creates a path for fire to readily travel up, from floor to floor. Using the thermal imagers, firefighters can ‘look inside the walls’ for heat sources, and make sure the fire hasn’t spread.”

-3 After putting out the fire, firefighters carry out charred or burned materials, to make sure the fire doesn’t flare up.

“Everyone got out safely, and we’ve had no injuries,” Babcock reported. “But there will be a pretty extensive overhaul, because there was quite a bit of material down in the basement. We want to make sure the fire doesn’t rekindle.”

The total value of the home and contents was set at $400,000, and the loss value at $80,000, records indicate.

The official word on what started the fire: “Heat source too close to combustible materials.”

-4 After the fire has been extinguished, firefighters help one another change out their empty breathing apparatus air bottles for filled ones – so they’re ready immediately to go fight another fire, if needed.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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