Inferno at Parkrose roofing contractor seen for miles

Smoke from the blaze at Buckaroo Thermoseal Roofing and Insulation could be seen all over the greater Portland area. See why firefighters had their work cut out for them, at this industrial fire …

As we approach from NE Sandy Boulevard at NE 112th Avenue, Portland Fire & Rescue firefighters on this aerial ladder truck were often obscured by thick, dark smoke produced by the furiously burning roofing material.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As Parkrose Neighborhood Association chair Mary Walker was leaving work on Sunnyside Road and coming home, on the morning of July 23, she noticeed a column of thick, dark smoke rising up in the north.

“As I drove north and got closer to home,” Walker told us as we watched the blaze from her front yard, “I thought it was coming from the airport or from Vancouver. But when I arrived in Parkrose, I could clearly see the fire and smoke coming up from the industrial area, a block north of NE Sandy Boulevard.”

Firefighters pour two streams of water on the fire from the same ladder rig.

Smoke seen for miles
Walker wasn’t the only one who noticed the smoke from the fire that broke out at Buckaroo Thermoseal, a 40-year-old roofing and insulation installation company on NE 109th Avenue near NE Marx Street about 10 a.m. that morning.

The conflagration grew so quickly that, as the smoke boiled into the cool, overcast sky, it formed a partial mushroom cloud, darkening the area. Freeway traffic on I-205 slowed to look at the growing commercial fire.

Heavy damage was sustained by the roofing firm, but Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crew members worked diligently to keep an affiliated company, A and B Sheet Metal, from also going up in flames. On either side of the lot were stories-high piles of wood chips, also spared from burning.

From the air, on the roof and on the ground, firefighters battle this industrial blaze.

Goes to three alarms
“The smoke everyone saw was generated by a free-burning fire in several different types of roofing materials,” explained PF&R spokesman, Lt. Allen Oswalt.

The first Battalion Chief on scene immediately called a second alarm to bring in more firefighting equipment and personnel. Shortly thereafter, a third alarm was called.

By 10:30 a.m., 13 engines, five trucks, six Chief Officers, and 80 firefighters from PF&R as well as the Gresham Fire Department were on scene, battling the inferno.

So many units were called to the scene; “reserve rigs” were called to provide service from stations vacated by this three-alarm fire.

“No evacuations were ordered, except for the areas immediately surrounding the fire,” Oswalt said. “Neighboring businesses were temporarily shut down, to allow firefighters access to the burning structure.”

“There were semi-trucks parked at the loading dock, and a 5,000 gallon diesel tank near the burning building,” Oswalt reported. “Another concern was keeping the fire from spreading, due to embers falling from the smoke column.”

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish (in the white helmet) looks on as Fire Bureau Chief John Klum confers with the Battalion Chief managing the fire-fighting effort.

City Commissioner marvels at command structure
Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, now in charge of overseeing PF&R, donned a turnout and helmet to get a first-hand look at how his bureau tackles a major conflagration.

As Fish walked into the fire scene with Chief John Klum, he said it seemed like being on the set of a Hollywood movie.

“All of the firefighters were moving into position, calmly and rapidly,” the newly-elected City Councilman recalled. “Observing the command structure in action is a marvel. The Chief and Deputy Chief were there as a resources, but the Battalion Chief was organizing and coordinating the effort.”

With piles of shredded wood three stories high on either side of the warehouse, firefighters have their hands full to keep this “kindling” from catching fire.

Fish also said he gained an appreciation of how well city bureaus and utilities work together. “The police provided traffic control, the Portland Water Bureau rerouted water to make sure firefighters had enough pressure, and Pacific Power promptly arrived to cut power to the site.”

The Commissioner said he met the company’s owner at the site. “Naturally, he was distressed by the fire, but said he, too, was impressed firefighting effort. We tend to take our fire bureau for granted – but this is another example of why Portland Fire & Rescue is best in the country.”

So is the fire, this steel warehouse is melting like plastic.

Smoke fills the air as firefighters use all available water, piped in through miles of hoses, to douse the flames and keep the fire from spreading.

© 2008 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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