Backyard fire on ‘troubled property’ worries Lents neighbors

See the outer East Portland fire that neighbors claim was ‘inevitable’, along this street …

Smoke from an out-of-control backyard debris fire in the Lents neighborhood can be seen for blocks away.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The thick dark smoke from a fire, on a double lot behind a small house at 10444 SE Liebe Street, could be seen blocks away on the morning of January 13.

A resident, and several neighbors, called the 9-1-1 Center reporting flames, leaping higher than the surrounding trees – dispatching Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) at 8:41 a.m. that morning.

Debris and other materials burn hot, sending flames into neighbors’ trees.

Five minutes after being dispatched, PF&R Lents Station’s Engine 11 was pulling in, on the rutted and unpaved street on a disputed border between the Lents and Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhoods. A minute later, firefighters riding Mill Park Station’s Engine 7 had also arrived.

While a firefighter pulled a hose to a hydrant nearby, the Engineer engaged the pump – as other crewmembers unreeled the always-ready “booster” hose, spraying water from the engine’s internal tank on the back of the residence to protect it from the growing fire.

As firefighters struggle to move through sheds, tents, and other material to gain control of the blaze, the fire spreads east across the back yard.

All across the lot behind the house looked to be ablaze, with the conflagration belching acrid black smoke from the leaping flames.

Firefighters checked to make sure their SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) was in good order before rushing into the toxic air coming from the inferno with Pike pole and water hoses.

Two loud explosions issued from the yard. “It’s likely [to be] butane canisters people use for cook stoves and heaters,” a firefighter remarked to East Portland News.

Fire soon engulfs the backyard of a property that the neighbors call “troubled”.

With thousands of gallons of water being sprayed in three streams from the combined crews attacking the fire, the conflagration soon died down. Firefighters began picking through the sheds, tents, and debris in the backyard, looking for any live embers that might rekindle the fire.

Neighbors looking on shook their heads. “It’s inevitable that a fire started back there,” remarked a neighbor who asked not to be identified.

Neighbors call the property ‘troubled’
Other neighbors told East Portland News that this was had been a “troubled property” for more than 20 years. They said that the property owner and the occupants “collected” broken-down vehicles – including trailers, motor homes, and campers that were not only spread across the wide back yard, but were also lining the adjacent street.

“We’ve contacted the Portland Bureau of Development Services (BDS) about this place for years; inspectors come out, but nothing really changes,” a homeowner on the street commented.

A check of BDS records shows the first “Owner-Occupied Nuisance” complaints were lodged back in 2006. One complaint after another was listed; the most recent being last October, reporting that the yard was littered with “trash/debris, construction materials, scrap wood”.

Looking over a neighbor’s fence, it appeared that firefighters had finally knocked down the greater part of this fire.

“And, over the summer, it was a ‘campground’, with people coming and going at all hours of the day and night,” another neighbor told East Portland News. “Some of them would end up in our yards – ‘by accident’, they said – when we shooed them out.”

A PF&R Investigator eventually arrived, but the Bureau has not provided any information or conclusions about the fire.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™



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