Deadly 2-alarm Centennial Neighborhood blaze claims a life

See why SE Division Street was closed for hours for hours, while firefighters fought – then investigated – an apartment fire that turned deadly …

The fire that in the Anderson Villa apartments was said to have caused residents to “hang off balconies” waiting for rescue – and claimed at least one life. KPTV Fox 12 Oregon aerial photo used with permission

By David F. Ashton
After many people finished their morning routine and left for work or school, a fire broke out in one of the units of the Anderson Villa apartments, at 15780 S.E. Division Street.

Responding to the blaze at 8:32 a.m. on November 2, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews reported seeing a thick column of dark smoke rising from the area as they approached.

The fire burns furiously, sending columns of smoke into the air. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Firefighters ladder up to this second-floor window, to effect rescue of residents trapped there. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

When they arrived, firefighters saw what witnesses had reported to the 9-1-1 Center – victims hanging off balconies, awaiting rescue. Although the smoke alarms were screaming out the warning to evacuate, the fire spread quickly up a stairwell and several people were unable to escape.

Some firefighters scrambled up ladders to rescue waiting victims; other crews did a room-by-room search of the affected apartments – while yet others pulled water lines and began to fight this outer East Portland blaze.

“It quickly went to a two-alarm fire,” reported PF&R spokesman Ron Rouse.

Firefighters cut open the roof to extinguish flames that had spread to the attic. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

The flames extended upward into the second-floor apartments, and then up into the structure’s attic. Firefighters cut holes in the building’s roof to contain the blaze, and to provide vertical ventilation.

Apartment house residents are given oxygen, after being evacuated from the burning building. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

“There was one fatality,” Rouse confirmed. “Two more victims were sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation.”

Although still shocked by the situation, family members of the deceased woman, whom they identified as 57-year-old Berna Dizer, talked freely to media.

Relatives said Dizer was on oxygen, and confined to bed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. She was staying with her sister and nephew, who took care of her.

The nephew, D’Andre Smith-Verna, told reporters that he’d talked with his aunt earlier that morning, and promised to stop by to see her that afternoon.

This photo of Berna Dizer was released to media by the victim’s family.

Charletta Dizer-Malone said that the victim used medical oxygen, and told reporters that there was an explosion in the living room of that ground floor unit.

By the time firefighters were able to get the blaze under control 9:20 a.m., it had damaged at least four units.

Firefighters continue pulling charred materials out of the exterior wall of the apartment building, making sure the fire has been fully extinguished. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

American Red Cross Willamette Chapter volunteers were at the scene, helping all of the residents evacuated from this outer East Portland apartment building, and providing personal supplies and temporary shelter.

“Investigators have valued the monetary damages at $190,000,” Rouse later added. “The fire remains under investigation.”

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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