Early morning blaze devastates Portland Mercado

Find out why the food carts outside the Market Hall – and undamaged by this outer East Portland fire – are also shut down, and may not reopen for some time …

SE Foster Road is filled with Portland Fire & Rescue apparatus, as they fight a fire inside the Portland Mercado. Greg Muhr, PF&R Image

By David F. Ashton

When multiple callers contacted the 9-1-1 Center to report explosions, and seeing fire in the main building of the Portland Mercado on SE Foster Road at 72nd Avenue, early on Wednesday, January 3, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews from several stations were sent to the plaza at 5:37 a.m.

The first arriving firefighters saw that the Portland Mercado’s “Market Hall” building had dark black smoke pushing out of the eaves, windows, and doors, signaling a large fire inside the 6,900 square foot structure.

After knocking down the blaze inside the Portland Mercado’s “Market Hall” building, crews cut open the roof to access the remaining fire between the ceiling and roof. Greg Muhr, PF&R Image

Crews from PF&R Woodstock Station 25’s Engine Company arrived first, and immediately reported seeing flames inside BARRIO, a beer and wine bar stall in the Market Hall, which opens onto a patio along the west side of the building.

Some of the crewmembers began to search the building for potential victims, while others hooked up water supply lines to a fire hydrant on the north side of SE Foster Road.

While the blaze destroyed BARRIO, firefighters were able to knock down and contain the main fire to that specific area of the building – although the adjoining business, Xocotl, also sustained damage.

Firefighters continue to pour water onto the stubborn fire in the building’s rafters. Greg Muhr, PF&R Image

Hidden fire found in ceiling
Concerned by black smoke still pushing out of areas away from the primary fire in the ceiling, the PF&R Incident Commander called for “second alarm” to bring additional crews and rigs to work at the location, 15 minutes into the incident.

Ladder Truck Company firefighters who cut holes in the roof to provide “vertical ventilation” – allowing hot and potentially combustible gasses to escape – discovered active fire hidden in odd void spaces between the ceiling and the roof.

It doesn’t take long for crews to extinguish the fire inside the building. Greg Muhr, PF&R Image

Working from above, cutting through layers of plywood and metal sheeting, firefighters were able to quench that fire. Within 30 minutes, the flames had been completely extinguished, and the second alarm was canceled.

PF&R officials say the cause of the blaze is “under investigation”, and would not speculate whether the fire might have intentionally been set.

These PF&R crewmembers check for hidden fire inside BARRIO. Image courtesy of Chris Shimamoto

Long recovery process predicted
The Portland Mercado, an economic development program of the Hacienda Community Development Corporation (Hacienda), opened on April 11, 2015, as covered in East Portland News. [CLICK HERE to read our story, and find links back stories about how the Portland Mercado was created.]

After the fire, all business in and around the Portland Mercado were closed indefinitely, including the undamaged food carts located outside the main building – as Hacienda’s CEO, Ernesto Fonseca, told reporters later that morning, after firefighters had left the charred building.

He said that because electric power was disconnected from the property, and water supply to the food carts was somehow disrupted, those independent owner/operators can’t open for business. As well, the large commercial kitchen inside the main building will be out of service for quite some time.

Looking into the front of BARRIO from its patio area, firefighters keep watch for embers. Image courtesy of Chris Shimamoto

“It is pretty devastating for everybody – not only financially, because this is a place that really is endeared to the community,” commented Fonseca.

Seeing the damage to his fresh juice shop, Xocotl, owner Omar Salomon said he was shocked seeing how his six-year-old business had been impacted by fire that broke out in the business next to his.

Back in 2021, BARRIO owner Chris Shimamoto spent a moment with “Pup Party” dog rescue fundraiser organizer Dayna Del Mar – as he hosted it at his bar in the Portland Mercado. East Portland News archive photo

BARRIO owner Chris Shimamoto didn’t return our call; however, after the fire, he wrote on social media:

“I’m obviously sad, devastated, for all my work [and my] neighbors and commissary kitchen friends affected by this [fire] at the Mercado. My heart is grateful for all the immediate donations, support, and love from the community, and all the notes and beautiful stories you’ve posted and that I’ve received. Lots of beautiful memories that will always live on in all of the hearts of those who visited the Mercado.”

At their website, it’s made clear that insurance proceeds won’t be enough to reopen the Portland Mercado. “As we take next steps towards recovery, our number-one priority is clear – to support our community of businesses during this hard time.”

You can help by donating online: CLICK HERE to do so.

© 2024 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™

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