Firefighters battle flames — and so-called ‘residents’ — at Montavilla house fire

Find out what hampered fire crews as they worked to put out a middle-of-the-night blaze, at a trouble-ridden house …

Firefighters find smoke and flames belching from a run-down Montavilla house. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

By David F. Ashton
It seemed odd that “residents” of a burning house would fight so vigorously with the Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) firefighters who were there to extinguish a blazing fire that was, even then, engulfing the structure.

At 3:52 a.m. on March 27, arriving PF&R crews reported seeing “heavy fire and smoke conditions” coming from the house at 720 NE 91st Avenue, in the Montavilla neighborhood, a block north of NE Glisan Street.

As at all fires, some firefighters immediately search the structure for potential victims to rescue, while other crews pull water lines and begin attacking the fire.

But in this case, according to PF&R Public Information Officer Lt. Rich Chatman, fire crews also had to deal with irate “residents” who were trying to reenter the blazing structure to “rescue” their pets.

“It became a chaotic scene,” Chatman told East Portland News. “It’s not often, but sometimes we call in Portland Police Bureau officers to keep control of the situation; in this case, to keep residents away from the house.”

Fire belches out a basement window-well in the burning structure. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

As it turned out, six individuals had evacuated the home without injury. “The pets inside the home at the time evacuated safely also,” Chatman said.

As they tried to work their way into the burning house, firefighters also had to get past what Chatman described as “extreme clutter” on the main floor of this single-story house. “This made it difficult to locate the fire and confirm that there were no victims. With low visibility and several obstacles, crews had to find alternate means to locate and extinguish the fire.”

This fire was caused by candles, Fire Investigators say. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Later that day, Chatman reported that Fire Investigators had determined that the cause of the fire was an unattended candle. “It is believed that candles were being used as a light source due to lack of power to the home. Damage to the home is estimated at $50,000.”

So, who were these troublesome “residents”?

A search of Multnomah County records indicate that a couple lived in and owned the home, built in 1948, for some time. An old plumbing permit issued to them was dated 1992.

Neighbors say the squatters who “moved in” to this house, after the owner died, are worrisome. East Portland News photo

But, starting in January, 2013, complaints started coming into the Portland Housing Bureau.

  • January 30, 2013: No garbage service.
  • March 1, 2013: Chronic Noise Complaints, car stereo.
  • July 16, 3013: Nuisance, Vacant – Squatters. “The house is in dilapidated condition with possible people living in the back.”
  • December 23, 2013: Property in Receivership; “Property Owner is Dead”.
  • February 3, 2014: Squatters; “The house is in dilapidated condition.”


Perhaps now, Portland Housing Bureau inspectors will order this house to demolished. East Portland News photo

Visiting the scene during the following day, a neighbor walked over.

“It got hard for Wilber and Nina to keep up the place,” the neighbor commented, not wishing to give her name.

“I think one of them died, and the other one moved into a care facility more then a year ago,” she said. “That’s when the trouble began. The squatters there scare us all. We call the housing inspectors, but they don’t do anything. Police say there’s nothing they can do.

“I wish they’d bulldoze down the house.”

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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