Indoor commercial ‘Pot farm’ burns; retail building and school saved

While the profit from this indoor marijuana farm may have gone up in smoke, see what it took to keep other nearby legitimate businesses – and a special-needs school – from being incinerated too …

Firefighters head in to fight a fire, soon to become a second-alarm blaze, at what they first thought was a woodshop.

Story and photos (other than as noted) by David F. Ashton
The lingerie-clad barista at Twin Perks Bikini Coffee Espresso smiled, as all the attention attracted by a two-alarm fire in a former wood shop located behind an office building at 14439 SE Stark Street brought her a steady stream of new customers on the cold, we, and windy afternoon of November 21.

Meantime, the owners of business such as City Sign Co?., Northwest Roof Tech Inc?. and Tax Specialists? – housed in the building only an alley away from the flaming structure – were relieved by the fast arrival of Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews.

And, students and teachers at Reynolds School District’s special-needs elementary facility, Four Corners School, were saved by firefighters from the blaze that was reported at 3:19 p.m. that afternoon.

PF&R Public Information Officer Paul Corah told East Portland News at the scene that 9-1-1 took numerous calls about the conflagration. “They reported seeing flames shooting from the roof of the structure at that location. The business was reportedly sed as a woodworking shop.”

As smoke and flames leap from the building, crews of PF&R’s Truck 7 and Engine 7 prepare to battle the blaze – a fire that keeps getting more fierce by the minute. Dick Harris, PF&R photo
Corah went on, saying that Firefighters from Portland’s Mill Park Fire Station 7 arrived first on scene minutes later alongside firefighters from Portland’s Rockwood Fire Station 31. But, firefighters had to cut open one of the garage bay doors to get at the seat of the blaze, he added, to began an aggressive fire attack.

Incident commanders called for a second alarm at 3:30 pm, bringing additional firefighters, apparatus and resources to the scene to help fight the flames. “Three minutes after calling for a second alarm, all firefighters were ordered to exit the building and take a defensive fire attack position, after the building’s roof began to sag.”

With the roof caving in, firefighters try to quench the inferno through a doorway. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Firefighters were able to knock down the main body of the fire from the exterior, as the roof continued to collapse in at least one-third of the building, Corah described. At 3:38 pm, fire erupted through another portion of the roof, and truck crews worked quickly to vent holes and look for fire extensions, while engine crews used hand lines to fight the fire.
“Incident commanders were concerned when one firefighter’s low air alarm sounded, indicating he was running out of air in his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA),” related Corah. “The firefighter was quickly located and incident commanders verified that he made it to safety. Less than a minute later, it was determined that the roof was structurally failing, and only the roof’s membrane (rubber sheeting) was holding it up.”

Firefighters continue to pour water into the building, slowly putting out the fire. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

The fire was brought under control at 4:20 pm.

“After the smoke began to clear, firefighters were surprised to find the remains of a very large and sophisticated marijuana grow operation,” Corah later said. “The grow operation covered much of the 5,000 square foot warehouse.”

On scene, Portland Police Bureau Public Information Officer Sgt. Peter Simpson joined Corah and confirmed members of their Drugs and Vice Division were on hand to investigate the “indoor pot farm” aspect of the fire. “It does appear to be what’s left of a grow operation,” Simpson said.

Investigators from fire, police, and ATF, remain on scene as they begin the job of determining the cause of the fire – and the nature of the pot-growing operation.
Because the fire had been deemed suspicious in nature, ATF was called to the scene; the structure is being treated as a crime scene. Information on the fire’s cause and a damage estimate are not yet available.

“We’ve seen several fires this year attributed to indoor grow operations,” Corah commented.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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