Careless midnight cooking fire displaces twelve, in Argay Terrace

Learn what officials say could have prevented five apartments from being damaged by fire – and avoided sending two people to the hospital. There’s a simple-but-effective lesson to be learned, here …

Residents hear the fate of their apartment from a Portland Fire & Rescue official, after a cooking fire next door torched their building.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
When firefighters from Portland Fire & Rescue’s truck and engine from Station 2 rolled up to the townhouses in the 13000 block of NE Prescott Drive, flames were shooting out of the second and third story windows.

With the smoke detector sounding an alarm in the background, firefighters began pulling hoses and hooking up to fire hydrants, while residents streamed out of the building. “Firefighters immediately went to work extinguishing the fire, and confirming that everyone was out,” reported fire bureau spokesman Lt. Damon Simmons. “Firefighters found fire between, and involving, two four-unit apartment buildings; the fire was threatening a third structure.”

Although the first firefighters arrived three minutes after the call came in, the blaze was already burning on three floors – and into the attic – of the building where it had started.

In the apartment of the fire’s origin, several floors were affected by the fire.

Firefighters work from atop a third-story roof to extinguish the fire that had extended into the attic.

Gas lines pose explosion threat
The tall townhouse design of the buildings made the fires difficult to fight. But in addition, the fear of a natural gas explosion became evident. “Extinguishing this fire was complicated by damage to a gas line, causing gas to freely flow until the valve could be closed,” confirmed Simmons. “The electrical service was also damaged; the power company responded, and disconnected electricity from the affected structures.”

Firefighters faced another hazard, Simmons added: “The fire partially burned through the floor and stairs in at least one unit.”

Portland Police Bureau officers helped evacuate all occupants. In the process of getting the neighbors to safety, they found two adults and one child who needed medical attention. “They were transported to Emanuel Hospital,” Simmons stated, declining to comment on the nature of their medical condition.

It took crews and their eleven rigs from five PF&R stations about an hour to extinguish the fire. American Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter volunteers provided shelter for 12 people, in addition to food, clothing and comfort kits.

A resident learns from firefighters that he won’t be going back to his apartment, damaged by the fire.

Fire blamed on out-of-control frying
It didn’t take long for PF&R investigators to arrive at the fire’s cause. “It looks as if an occupant of an apartment tried to remove a burning pot of cooking oil and spilled it. It ignited a mattress,” PF&R’s Lt. Allen Oswalt later told us.

“When people try to move a burning pan from the stove to outside,” he continued, “it seems they either spill the burning contents on the floor or on themselves. In this case, two people were treated for minor burns.”

The preferred way to extinguish a cooking-pot fire, Oswalt instructed, is to turn off the burner and cover it with a metal lid. “A tight fitting lid is preferable, but even a lid that is too big for the pot will work. Just slide the lid from the side and push it across so that it rests covering the contents of the pan. The lack of oxygen will put the fire out.”

Loss to the buildings and contents was placed at $400,000.

Firefighters continued to work on the roof for over an hour, as they put out a blaze that officials say could have easily have been avoided.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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