Antiques, and memories, burn in two-alarm house blaze

Find out why, when firefighters thought they were gaining control of this Brentwood-Darlington house fire, it kept flaring up again and again …

SE Flavel Drive quickly lights up with PF&R rigs, as a large house – crammed to overflowing with furnishings – explodes in flames.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Before the first fire crew arrived, Brentwood-Darlington homeowner Phyllis Palmer was standing in the driveway of the house she’s owned for five decades, looking shocked and puzzled as she watched her home erupt into flames. It was about 11:00 p.m., on June 14.

Just as Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Engine 25 and Truck 25 rolled up from their Woodstock firehouse, to the big 3,024-square-foot home at 5644 SE Flavel Drive, a fireball exploded from the back of the house, lighting up the night sky.

PF&R Engine 25 firefighters enter the home, from which is belching thick dark smoke.

With firefighters on the roof, about to begin their vertical ventilation, flames erupt from the house.

“I was sleeping in the front room, in my sleeping chair, with my two dogs,” Palmer told reporters at the scene. “I heard the sound glass breaking, like somebody was breaking in the window. I was afraid it was a burglary.”

She walked back to the kitchen to investigate, gun in hand. “Just then, the whole window exploded and a giant fireball went clear up to the ceiling. I grabbed my purse and puppies, and took off out of the front door.”

Fire crews move back on the roof, as flames leap into the night sky.

Her back to the camera, the homeowner watches, as the fire flares up for the second time.

Firefighters first entered the burning home through the front door as fire was coming out of the side of the home and starting to spread to the second floor.

The Incident Commander immediately called for a “second alarm”; every few minutes, another fire rig pulled up to the scene, including an engine company from Clackamas Fire District 1. Some of crews fought the fire; others protected a house situated on a “flag lot” behind the blazing home.

“The fire eventually made its way into the attic, which makes it extremely difficult to extinguish,” said PF&R spokesman Ron Rouse. “Fire crews initially made an interior attack, but had to fight the fire from the outside, due to the large amount of furnishings inside.”

With many streams of water pouring on and into the house, it looks as if the fire is under control – until it erupts in flames for the third time.

Having laddered up to the second-story dormer windows, a firefighter looks into the roiling flames inside the burning house.

Neighbors speculated that the layout of the house also may have made navigating with no visibility difficult, because it had been expanded and remodeled since it was built 83 years ago.

“I’ve been told the house was filled with antiques, and a lot of other stuff,” said a neighbor who wished not to be identified. “For a while, a few years ago, it became known in the neighborhood as ‘the house with the perpetual yard sale’. But then, I think it was vacant for a while.”

After another fire knock-down, the fire comes to life for the fourth time.

On four occasions, firefighters knocked down the flames that leapt from the back, eves, and eventually the roof of the house, only to see them flare up again. Flames were clearly visible through the front door; and yellow-orange fire roiled inside the second floor dormer windows.

Finally, a giant fireball belched upward from the center of the house when the roof collapsed.

Firefighters worked throughout the night, quenching flare-ups and dousing hot spots.

The fire’s damage is evident, the morning following the fire.

The next day, the extent of the damage to Palmer’s home and contents was clearly evident. Her Toyota, now parked in her driveway, looked to be filled with flea-market merchandise.

During the fire, she told reporters that she didn’t have insurance. “Everything I own is gone, except my two puppies.”

The cause of the fire remains under investigation; no damage estimate has been released as of this writing.

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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