Seven escape fiery two-house inferno, but 3-Alarm blaze leaves them all homeless

Two were injured in the blaze that did $900,000 worth of damage; fire inspectors won’t say how this fire started ‚Ķ

Firefighters stayed at the two burned houses in the 3300 block of NE 72 Avenue worked long into the night making sure the fire that got into the walls and attics of both homes was completely put out.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It isn’t often firefighters are called to fight two house fires ‚Äì right next to one another ‚Äì at the same time. But that’s exactly what 80 firefighters did on the evening of October 22.

And, apparently, those living in the homes didn’t know about the blaze, until neighbors and firefighters told them to evacuate immediately.

Neighbors witness flames, hear explosions
Jenny Mitchell lives across the street from the most heavily-damaged house. She told East PDX News, “We saw the shed was on fire. It started the gray house on fire. It spread over to the white house.”

Soon, Mitchell said, the fire was roof high. “You could see flames in both houses. Then, there was fire coming out the roof of the gray house. The firefighters were here right away. It was pretty scary.”

John Andrews said he heard explosions or gunshots shortly after the fire started. Fire officials said the explosions were most likely due to aerosol cans exploding in the fire, and a propane tank that vented off pressure from the fire’s heat.

Concerned people were trapped inside
“We were concerned when we learned people were still in those houses when we arrived,” Portland Fire & Rescue 3rd Battalion Commander Jay Olson told us on scene. “Everyone got out, but one resident burned his hand. He was treated at the scene by an ambulance paramedic.”

Narrow streets, house design complicate efforts
“This narrow street was an issue,” Olson said, “Crews had to walk in, and carry gear from some distance.”

Firefighters quickly divided unto teams to attack the fires in both houses.

“Fire was running up between the interior and exterior walls of the homes,” Olson explained. “In older construction, houses can have several different attic spaces. It takes a personnel-intensive effort to cut open walls, and attack the fire on each floor of the home. We had crews working on the first and second floors, the attic, and another crew cutting open the roof.”

By cutting into the roof, firefighters were able to make sure the fire didn’t spread in the attic, while ventilating smoke from the structures.

It took the combined crews about 30 minutes to get the fires under control; but firefighters worked long into the night, making sure all the hot spots were quenched.

A spectator asked why firefighters had to cut open the roof. “If we hadn’t, fire would have run the entire length of the attics,” Olson said. “Crews did a very good job getting up on top and fighting fires in several different fire areas.”

Outside the homes, crews maintaining the water supply. Because of the size of the event, relief crews came to help out. “One firefighter was injured while working on the roof, and was treated at a local hospital. Our crews did a very good job here tonight,” Olson added.

At the scene, Battalion Commander Jay Olson told us the fires had made these homes unfit to occupy.

Seven left homeless
Olson said the damage to the homes left them uninhabitable. Three adults and two children were displaced from one home; two adults from the other. Red Cross was on hand to assist with clothing and housing.

At this time, the cause of the fire is under investigation.  Investigators did say the fire appeared to have started outside on the rear porch of the northern of the two homes. It could take days to pinpoint the cause.

As a side note, the fire bureau asked we remind readers they recommend storing propane tanks outside in a well ventilated area; never inside a shed, a garage, or inside a home.

¬© 2006 David F. Ashton ~ East PDX News

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