Suspected gas leak blows roof off mobile home; sends one to hospital

See why eyewitnesses said they couldn’t believe their eyes, seeing the trailer’s singed resident still standing outside, after the explosion that rocked this Powellhurst-Gilbert trailer park ‚Ķ

Although officials still say this fire is officially under investigation, witnesses claim the lone occupant smelled natural gas just before he lit up a cigarette – apparently sparking a fireball that destroyed his mobile home.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Folks who live in and near Ranchette Manor say this mobile home park is typically quiet and peaceful. But on January 24, an explosion, followed by a fireball, in this Powellhurst-Gilbert park on SE Powell Blvd. at SE 109th Avenue, stunned residents.

“I was emptying my recyclables,” Dave LaFollette, owner of the Back to the Grind coffee shop at the park’s entrance, tells us. “I hear a ‘pop’ and look over my shoulder. Then, there is an explosion. I see the top of Jerry’s single-wide trailer blow about three feet off the walls before it falls back into the trailer.”

LaFollette says he and others raced to the mobile home, now completely engulfed in flames. Many had cell phones in hand, calling 9-1-1 Emergency.

“Jerry, the guy who lives there, was standing outside. He looked dazed; and like he was badly burned,” LaFollette continues. “It seemed like the fire department was there immediately.”

The lone occupant of the mobile home is rushed to Emanuel Hospital, with 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 30% of his body, in this ambulance.

Another neighbor, who asked not to be identified, shook her head looking at the twisted, burning metal shell that once was a home. “I’m surprised he’s alive and was standing outside. He said he went to light up a smoke, and the next thing he knew, he was on fire.”

Three-minute response
According to Portland Fire & Rescue’s official records, trucks started rolling at 1:07 p.m. and arrived on-scene 1:10 p.m. In all, four engines and two ladder companies from Portland Fire & Rescue stations 7, 11, 45 and 29 responded to the fiery explosion.

Firefighters keep the flames from spreading to nearby mobile homes in the park. The trailer where the fire started, however, is declared a total loss.

Fire medics treated and stabilized the patient while other firefighters began fighting the fire.

On scene, we speak with Battalion 3 Chief Chris Babcock. He confirms our witnesses’ stories: “We had a lone occupant in the trailer. He reported a smell of natural gas. Shortly thereafter, there was an explosion. He was transported to Emanuel Hospital with burn injuries.”

“Our firefighters face challenges fighting this fire,” says Lt. Allen Oswalt, the bureau’s spokesperson, as we stand together, viewing the smoldering debris at the scene. “There is limited, cramped access to the site; and, we are concerned that electric power lines might fall on personnel and equipment.”

The older mobile home park has narrow streets, making access more difficult, firefighters say.

Fire Investigators from Portland Fire & Rescue are treating the area as a crime scene, to keep any evidence in the debris field intact for recovery.

Although there are indications of a gas leak contributing to the explosion, fire investigators will only say the fire is still under investigation. The official word: “It is not known at this time what caused the explosion.”

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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