Lents fire damages tow lot, natural area

INCLUDES SMOKIN’ HOT VIDEO | Officials aren’t saying so, but neighbors believe this fire started in a transient camp, illegally located in a natural area …

Smoke from this fire on S. E. 111th Avenue in the Lents neighborhood is visible for miles.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

The “header” – what firefighters call a rising column of dark smoke – billowed into the hot blue sky along S.E. 111th Avenue on Saturday afternoon. May 13. It could be seen from Interstate 205, and just as easily from S.E. 122nd Avenue.

At first, it had appeared that the column of smoke might have been coming from a large barkdust fire already being fought by firefighters on the Freeway Land Company private property next to Johnson Creek at 6400 S. E. 101st Avenue. Some Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews had been dispatched to that at 1:32 p.m. Earth-moving equipment operators bulldozed rubble while crews sprayed it down.

Hiking into the area, it becomes obvious what is causing the huge column of smoke.

But, the bigger blaze dispatched minutes later, at 1:43 p.m. was actually on the eastern side of the Beggars Tick Natural Area, just south of the 21st Century Towing lot, at 5643 S.E. 111th Avenue.

Watch firefighters at work as they battle this blaze:

Neighbors from blocks around came to see where the smoke was coming from.

“Fire lit up the big fir tree next to the tow lot, and with the breeze, that started all of the brush on fire,” a neighbor reported, as we made the two-block hike from Harold Street.

As seen through the fence of the tow lot, while vehicles are singed with flames, the skeletal frame of an office building still burns.

From the street, firefighters are obscured by smoke inside the tow lot, but a stream of water is clearly visible.

“I’ll bet it’s that homeless camp back there; it’s behind where the Natural Area’s fence is broken down, and a trail leads back into the brush,” said a man on who bicycled in to see the spectacle. “It’s a ‘natural area’, you know, and no one is supposed to be ‘camping’ in there.’

“Several vehicles, including a RV, were on fire at a tow company lot,” reported PF&R Public Information Officer Rick Graves. “When firefighters arrived, they found at least seven vehicles on fire, as well as a shed that was being used as an office.”

These firefighters suit up, ready to head into the Beggars Tick Natural Area to help quench the blaze from that area.

While some crew members continued to spray down the vehicles inside the tow lot’s fence; other firefighters were transitioning into fighting what they call an “urban/wildland interface” brush fire being whipped up by the wind.

Back in the area where the alleged “camp” was set up, one, another explosion popped off. “Whoa, that’s likely a propane cylinder exploding,” a firefighter commented, as he pulled more water line hose off the engine.

Crews continue to put out the fire, from both inside and outside the fence of the tow lot.

“Cause and damage information for both [nearly simultaneous] fires will be provided when it is available,” Graves said. “With the hot and dry weather, your Portland Firefighters ask that you help us by being extra cautious with anything that could cause a fire.”

© 2023 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™



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