Fire rips through Montavilla residence

INCLUDES VIDEO Neighbors speculate arson was the cause of the blaze that all but destroyed an outer East Portland home …

Portland Fire & Rescue rigs clog SE Division Street, as crews fight an intense fire burning through a 99-year-old Montavilla neighborhood home.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

When neighbors in the Montavilla neighborhood spotted smoke arising from a house at 7645 SE Division Street, on Saturday morning, July 24, several of them called the 9-1-1 Center to report a possible fire.

Neighbors wonder if it’s arson
“I hope the people squatting in there got out and that nobody is trapped in there,” neighbor Mona Ovid told East Portland News as she watched more and more Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) rigs pull up in front of the burning residence, blocking all of SE Division Street.

“My neighbor said she told a policeman that she’d heard a loud argument, or fight of some kind not long before seeing a black female, in her 30s, wearing a black top, black pants, and carrying a black purse, walking that way (eastbound) on Division Street just after it started,” Ovid recalled. “We’re wondering if she set the fire – on purpose, or by accident in this squatter house.”

Gazing across the roof of their homes along SE 77th Avenue, neighbors hope their houses won’t also catch fire. Firefighters on the ground blast water under the burning house’s eaves to stop flames from igniting nearby residences.

Smoke seen from blocks away
Officially, PF&R crews were dispatched at 9:30 a.m. that morning. As crews crew neared, they reported seeing a “header” – a column of smoke – rising into the sky.

First to arrive, only three minutes after dispatch, was PF&R Mill Park Station 7’s Engine Company, followed two minutes later by both the Engine Company and Ladder Truck crew of Woodstock Station 25 – with additional crews arriving minute after minute.

Cutting holes in the roof to provide “vertical ventilation” – to allow hot combustible gasses to escape – firefighters work above the room where the fire is thought to have started.

One crew member reported encountering “pressurized smoke” coming from a vent and eaves at the rear of the house; and heavy security bars on the back door hindered them getting inside for a search.

While other firefighters entered from the front and first-floor windows to search for any victims, other crews pulled in water lines and reported quickly knocking down visible fire in the front room.

Seeing that the fire had spread to the porch roof, firefighters turn to extinguish it.

Thick smoke made it difficult for fire crews to find the stairway to the second floor. Eventually they found it, and continued the search.

With both an initial and secondary search for victims completed, with none found, crews reported back to commanders that the house was vacant, and continued fighting the fire.

Ducking a potentially “live” electric power line, more firefighters head onto the property.

Of concern was natural gas service to the house; but a crew member reported to commanders that it had been turned off.

Also of concern was the electrical power drop line that quickly burned through, sparking and arcing, neighbors said, before it hit the ground in front of the house.

The flames spread up through the internal walls of this 1,926 sq. ft. residence, which was built in 1922. Ladder Truck companies scrambled up to the roof and began cutting holes in the shingles to attack flames that had spread into the attic.

It took quite some time for firefighters to extinguish the fire, and then quench glowing embers in the structure’s walls, attic, and eaves.

From inside the house, and as seen here, around its exterior, fire crews keep working to put out this house fire.

After the fire, PF&R Public Information Officer Terry Foster checked the incident records and confirmed to East Portland News, “Crews found a two story house fire, with heavy fire showing upon arrival, power lines down, and no people were located inside the house.

“Initial reports that someone set the fire and left, this has not been confirmed,” Foster added. He noted that although the fire incident was recalled at 10:00 a.m., crews stayed on scene, making sure the fire had been extinguished.

This fire remains under investigation; we’ll update this article if more information is released.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™



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