Historic winter storm blamed for deaths in Lents and Russell

Although days and miles apart, here’s how the relentless strong gusty wind, and the endlessly icy conditions, led to tragic deaths in two outer East Portland neighborhoods …

Downed trees and electrical power lines block streets and roadways across outer East Portland – including here, in the Lents neighborhood, hindering the arrival of emergency first responder crews.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

In the following story, this week, “Snow, ice, high wind pummel outer East Portland historic storm”, you’ll see what conditions were like when this storm arrived in our neighborhoods.

Seldom is an even an historic winter storm directly blamed for causing deaths in our area, but this one has this week.

January 13
Woman killed in Lents as tree, power lines,
fall on RV

It’s not an easy drive, but Portland Fire & Rescue firefighters make their way to the intersection of SE 105th Avenue and Harold Street.

As wind-driven sleet continued to pelt outer East Portland on Saturday, January 13th, and blowing trees over into power lines, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews from all of our stations were running from call to call dealing with all kinds of emergencies.

At 2:33 p.m., PF&R crews from Lents Station 11 and Woodstock Station 25 were dispatched to an unusual call, “Fire—with Confined Space Rescue”. The location was SE 105th Avenue, a block north of Harold Street. Added to the call was Westmoreland Station 20’s Engine Company crew – who made their way miles east from near Westmoreland Park, when closer rigs came upon blocked roads.

Power lines down, draped across SE 105th Avenue, make it difficult for firefighters to reach the burning RV.

“While on their way, crews learned that a tree that had fallen onto an RV, which the caught fire, with someone trapped inside,” PF&R Public Information Officer Rick Graves said. “A second caller told the dispatcher that the RV was completely engulfed in flames.”

After making their way through nearly impassable streets, the first arriving fire crew, riding Lents Station Engine Company 11, confirmed the reports of an RV ablaze.

“Fire crews found a fallen tree had also knocked down a wooden utility pole onto the RV;  multiple live lines and a transformer impeded crews’ ability to directly attack the fire,” Graves reported.

Frozen fire hydrants, like this one, make fighting the fire even more difficult.

As crews pulled out their water hose lines they found that the nearest hydrant, at the corner of SE Harold Street, was completely frozen shut. Undeterred, firefighters added additional hose lines to the string and connected to the next closest fire hydrant.

“As crews extinguished this fire, they were informed that three other individuals who had been in the RV were safely sheltered at a nearby home,” Graves continued. “An ambulance arrived and found that one of the three people had non-life-threatening injuries, and took that person to a local hospital; however, the other two were uninjured.”

When the fallen power lines have been de-energized, firefighters finish putting out the RV fire.

While those three individuals were able to exit the RV, Graves said, a woman in her early 30s was trapped inside the vehicle when the tree fell, was unable to escape, and died inside the RV.

“Our Fire Investigator learned that the individuals in the RV were using an open flame stove to keep warm at the time the tree fell, which is what caused the RV to catch fire.”

January 17
Family electrocuted by downed
power line in Russell

Firefighters and paramedics come upon to a tragic scene, after an energized power line had fallen on a parked SUV and started sparking, eventually causing the death by electrocution of three people.

Four days after the first fatality, on Wednesday, January 17, PF&R firefighters were sent at 11:44 a.m. to a “Vehicle Fire—with Ambulance” along NE Siskiyou Street near 122nd Avenue.

While on their way, firefighters and paramedics received this update from the dispatch center: “Reports of a person on fire in the street, a power line down in the street; unsure if the person is electrocuted. Victim still down in the street. Another hysterical caller says four patients are there, one a baby, with someone on fire. Three people lying in the street unconscious.”

Emergency first responders evaluate the situation.

PF&R’s Graves continued the story: “Additional information included in the update was that there was a power line draped over a vehicle; that the vehicle was on fire; and, that a community member had taken the baby off of one of the adults lying in the street, for the safety of the child,

“Arriving crews found three individuals in the street, located approximately 35 feet away from a full-size SUV, which had a power line draped over it. with a large tree branch over the top of the power line resting on the hood of the SUV,” Graves went on.

Paramedics determined that all three individuals – two adults and a teen male — were dead.

At a later PF&R press conference, witness and baby-rescuer tells what she saw as the incident unfolded.

At a press conference on January 18th at PF&R headquarters downtown, 18-year-old Majiah Washington was honored as a “Hero of Portland” for being the one to cross the ice to take the baby to safety.

At that time, Washington said she’d witnessed the downed power line ignite a small fire near the car. A woman called to the man in the car to get her baby from the back seat of the SUV.

This is part of the tree branch officials say knocked down the electrical wire onto the vehicle which the three victims were originally.

A man, said to be the baby’s father, slipped on the ice-covered street and fell down, with his legs or feet contacting the still-live electric wire. The baby’s mom rushed to help the man, slipped and fell on the ice, and also contacted the line – causing wafts of smoke to emanate from the contact area.

Then, the third victim – a teenager identified as Milwaukie High School student Ta’Ron Briggs – attempted to rescue the adults, slipped, fell, contacted the fallen electrical line, and was also electrocuted.

“PF&R reminds everyone to stay inside their vehicle, and contact emergency services to have any downed power line de-energized, prior to exiting,” warned Graves. The rubber vehicle tires are insulators, and an electrically-charged auto body is no threat to those inside as long as they stay inside.  “Treat all downed lines as live and dangerous, and activate emergency services.”

Some images in the second part of this story are courtesy Portland Fire & Rescue,
KGW-TV News 8 and KPTV Fox Oregon 12.

© 2024 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


Comments are closed.

© 2005-2024 David F. Ashton East PDX News™. All Rights Reserved.