Fire razes two transient ‘squats’ within one day

Even though one squatter almost died in one of them, neighbors say these are house fires they wish had been left to burn …

This Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood house went up in flames, and almost killed the squatter living inside.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
First, in the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood, and then in Lents, two vacant houses went up in flames between 8:30 a.m. on June 16 and 6:30 a.m. on June 17

“It was only a matter of time until something like this happened,” reflected Denise Smith, as she watched firefighters mop up after the June 16 house fire at 9809 SE Holgate Boulevard. “Fire was shooting out of windows here in front, and smoke was pouring out.”

Smith said she also watched as firefighters pulled a woman from the burning house and loaded her into an ambulance.

“I’m sorry the woman was hurt, but with all the trouble in and around this house, I wish the firemen had let it burn down,” Smith said.

Neighbors say that his house – just north of Lent Elementary School – has been the scene of suspected illegal activity.

A Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) spokesperson confirmed that a 52 year old female experienced “significant inhalation and burn injuries and is currently listed in critical condition at Emanuel Hospital”.

It was later released that fire investigators learned that the victim was “living there illegally” in the vacated house with the utilities shut off when the fire they deemed accidental began on a couch, ignited by an unknown source.

Multnomah County records incorrectly show the house to be currently occupied by the owners – why the house was “unoccupied” remains unknown. The only complaint filed was 2007 for “Tall grass and weeds”.

All is calm at this Lents neighbor house now, but a raging fire raced through the “abandoned” structure, early on June 17.

The following morning, at 6:22 a.m., Portland Fire & Rescue crews raced to a “fully involved” house fire at 8729 SE Malden Street – a nearly acre-sized, triangularly-shaped property along the Springwater Trail – accessible only from SE Lambert Street off SE 82nd Avenue.

Initially, PF&R Public Information Officer Lt. Rich Chatman reported, “There were reports of a possible victim,” in this fire.

“There has also been a partial roof collapse,” Chatman added.

It turned out there wasn’t a victim in this fire, according to what was learned in a follow-up call regarding this story.

More than a dozen complaints have been filed against this property, located along the Springwater Trail, most listing illegal and drug activity.

The structure – especially the detached garage – weren’t total losses. A half-dressed man and woman came running out of the garage and started screaming profanities when East Portland News took photos of the site after the fire.

Neighbors wouldn’t speak about the property. They did shake their heads, when asked about the residents. One yard, adjacent to the property, was surrounded with a chain link fence, and a German Sheppard dog was actively guarding their property.

According to Multnomah County records, 15 complaints starting in August 2011 were filed against the house, with the last one being on March 26, 2014.

Many of the complaints were for “Illegal Camping” in the yard and garage. All of the complaints noted “Drug Activity” and “Illegal Activity” at this address.

The owner of this derelict property: the City of Portland.

Amazingly, the owner of this troubled property is listed as “City of Portland”, giving the property address. Apparently, the City purchased it on April 17, 2014 for $172,000.

Five days after the purchase a Trade Permit Garage for “Carport Demolition” was issued; and on May 1, another permit was issued for “Single Family Dwelling Demolition”.

Perhaps now, the City of Portland may follow through with their plans to demolish what appears to be an “attractive nuisance” in the neighborhood.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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