Illegal firework torches Centennial home

This blaze illustrates why Portland Fire & Rescue urged folks to ‘lower the boom’ during the Fourth by using safer fireworks …

Once the back porch is set ablaze by a still-burning aerial mortar shell, the outer East Portland house quickly becomes involved in fire. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

By David F. Ashton
What was perhaps intended to be the big finale of a Fourth of July fireworks show at a home in the Centennial neighborhood, on that holiday evening, turned into a fiery disaster.

About 10:30 p.m. Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) and Gresham Fire Department crews were called to a house at 17024 SE Alder Street for what PF&R spokesman Gabriel Watson said was “one of many fires caused by illegal fireworks.”

In minutes, the fire spreads to the interior of the house. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Fire Investigator Rob Garrison arrived at the scene early into the firefight, Watson said, and could see that an aerial firework – illegal in Oregon – had landed on the rear porch awning, igniting the fire that extended to the home and caused the larger fire.

“As firefighters continued working to bring the heavy fire under control, several groups in the area continued to launch illegal fireworks,” Watson reported with incredulity, “apparently with no regard to the safety of working firefighters or other area neighbors.”

Firefighters from two departments battle the blaze from all sides. Greg Muhr, PF&R Photo

Investigator Garrison agreed, commenting, “I couldn’t believe that while a fire caused by illegal fireworks was burning, less than 100 feet away people kept launching illegal fireworks.”

Fire Investigators have yet to release who they deem responsible for the fire and whether a citation was issued in this case. “The individuals responsible for the fire could face criminal charges, and be civilly liable for the associated losses,” Watson reminded.

Inside, a firefighter opens a wall, so other crewmembers can shoot water into the inferno that rages in the attic. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Outside, fire crews continue to hose down embers. Greg Muhr, PF&R Photo

Shortly after the Alder Street fire started, investigators arrived in the neighborhood and began issuing citations to those launching more illegal fireworks. “Operation Lower the Boom”, now in its fifth year, places teams of firefighters and police officers into areas where illegal fireworks are being used, Watson commented.

Starting a few days before the Independence Day holiday, and continuing after the date, police and firefighters issued more than 100 citations and seized illegal fireworks from at least 90 groups.

In spite of the firefighters’ best efforts, it appears the house is a total loss – all because of one errant illegal firework. Greg Muhr, PF&R Photo

Anyone tempted to blow off their remaining stash of illegal fireworks should know it will be very expensive if they’re caught, Watson said. “Those in possession of illegal fireworks face fines in excess of $500. However, illegal fireworks can be turned in, no questions asked, at any Portland fire or police station.”

> On our Front Page: The heat of this porch fire quickly sets the attached home on fire. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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