Firefighters were called to fight a grass fire – but found it was actually a business burning, once they arrived at SE Powell just west of SE 122nd Avenue …
Portland Fire & Rescue’s Truck Company #7 uses a high-volume nozzle atop its towering ladder to douse the flames on and around the house that contains a small business.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
What apparently started as a grass fire flared to set a small business ablaze, and touched off an explosion that startled everyone for blocks around, on the evening of July 25.
Officials aren’t yet saying how the fire started, and there’s a question of what caught fire first – the 4 Seasons Beauty Supply located at 12033 SE Powell Boulevard – or the grass behind it.
“At 9:05 p.m., crews responded to what was dispatched as a grass fire,” reported a Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) spokesman, Firefighter Justin de Ruyter.
Two minutes after they arrived, the crew from PF&R Station 7 told the dispatcher that there were smoke and flames visible from the two-story building, as well asfrom trees located behind the building. Eight minutes later, the fire was upgraded to a Second Alarm fire assignment, de Ruyter added.
“With the original ‘fire building’ heavily involved, firefighters worked to protect surrounding structures,” de Ruyter told us. “Crews immediately went into defensive fire operations on the original fire building, which required deploying large-volume hose lines, including the aerial nozzle on Truck 7.”
Immediately to the east of the blazing beauty supply building, crews raced to the rooftop of the Venice Furniture building, de Ruyter continued. “They were protecting it from spot fires starting on the roof. Fire spread to the front exterior wall of the Venice Furniture building, but firefighters extinguished it quickly, resulting in only minimal damage to the building.”
As firefighters knocked down what bystanders called an inferno, the thick smoke gradually cleared sufficiently to reveal the fire’s damage.
A few of the challenges posed by the fire, de Ruyter commented, were the close proximity of other buildings, the limited parking fire apparatus, the power lines close to the front of the building, and having to connect numerous hose lines to surrounding fire hydrants.
Heavy ground-level smoke conditions added to the difficulty. “They were also concerned about an unknown amount and type of different chemicals that could be in the building, and the possibility of a collapse of the main fire building.”
There’s very little left inside the portable storage unit that exploded between the buildings.
Between the beauty supply building and the furniture store, de Ruyter pointed out shreds of white, melted plastic in front of large, darkened box.
“That was one of those portable storage units,” he said. “Something inside – we don’t yet know what it was – caused a big explosion. Fortunately, all firefighters in the area of the explosion were wearing their full protective equipment; no injuries resulted from the blast.”
After taking their turns fighting the fire and protecting the surrounding buildings, the firefighters pause briefly to catch their breath.
Monitors ‘firefighter fatigue
We noticed some crewmembers heading for coolers and cans loaded with chilled bottled water, east of the area. The Safety Coordinator at the fire was concerned about firefighter fatigue, de Ruyter mentioned. The crew, he said, had been having a busy day prior to the fire – and the temperature was still in the high 70s.
“During the incident, crew members were rotated from their fire fighting positions to a rehabilitation area, where they were able to take off some of their protective fire gear to cool down, and hydrate with water,” de Ruyter told us.
It took about two hours – and thousands of gallons of water – for the 65 fire bureau personnel, including the crews from nine engine and two truck companies, to get the fire under control.
As we were leaving the scene, we noticed a man walking quickly toward the smoldering building, carrying plastic bags filled with water bottles. “I am one of the owners of the business,” he told officials. “I’m bringing water to you. Thank you for trying to save our family’s business.”
SE Powell Blvd. was closed to traffic into the wee hours of Sunday morning while firefighters made sure the blaze was extinguished and surrounding structures were out of danger.
© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News