Lents ‘squatter house’ set ablaze – twice

ARSON! That’s why firefighters risked their safety, for the second time on the same night, at this formerly splendid – but now boarded-up – house, across from Lents Park ...

Portland Fire & Rescue rigs pull up to a burning house in the Lents neighborhood.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

One could imagine that the house located at 5017 SE 88th Avenue, built in 1968 just west of the Lents Little League field in Lents Park, would have been an ideal place to raise a family.

But after two fires on February 1, it’s unlikely anyone will ever again live there.

Since the death of the owner, on and off for the last year the structure has been a neighborhood nuisance.

A Portland Police Bureau East Precinct officer told us they used to have a “Trespass Agreement” for the outer East Portland residence, and came by from time to time to check on the property.

It isn’t easy for fire crews to gain access to this boarded-up, supposedly-vacant, house.

“I couldn’t get past the front door when we stopped to check the house about a year ago,” the officer said. “The stench of human, animal, and food waste was overpowering.”

The first fire was called in to the 9-1-1 Center at 6:10 p.m. on February 1.

The narrow street was filled with Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) units, with the crew of Lents Station Engine 11 being first to the scene.

As the fire progresses, crews are soon pulled out of the structure.

Calling in the “size-up”, the crew reported seeing thick black smoke coming from front of the now-boarded-up house.

“As crews began to enter the house, the fire increased in size rapidly and started burning the trees at the side of the house,” said PF&R Public Information Officer Lt. Rich Tyler. “An electrical line also burned through, and fell to the ground, adding an electrocution hazard to the situation.”

Neighbor Mariah Gibson watched as some crews cut their way into the house, others scrambled onto the roof, and still other firefighters pulled hose lines around the back of the building.

“A real nice lady lived here for a long time,” Gibson told East Portland News. “After she got sick, and later died, there were all kinds of people coming in and out of here. The police told me there were street-people coming in and out – and that they were cooking drugs,” she added.

Now working from the outside, firefighters continue to battle the fire.

Making it more difficult and dangerous for firefighters, crews had to maneuver around piles of trash, broken furniture, other materials piled high in the residence. “This cluttered condition made it very difficult to move around to extinguish the fire,” Tyler said.

When they finally located the seat of the fire in the lowest level, and saw that it was burning through the floors, the PF&R Battalion Chief serving as incident commander ordered all crews out of the house due to the unsafe conditions.

It took about an hour to get the fire under control.

After the fire has been put out, fire crews relax for a moment, before gathering up their hose lines and equipment.

House set ablaze after firefighters depart
“Fire crews were called back to the house at 9:01 p.m. that same evening,” Tyler reported.

“I heard three big blasts, and the whole inside was on fire,” said area resident Joe Reed. “In a minute, all of the fire trucks were back in the street.”

After pouring water into the door of the house, for the second time, firefighters work to remove metal bars on the second-story window.

Tyler confirmed that the calls came in reporting the second fire just 23 minutes after crews had put out the last of the hot spots and went back to their fire stations.

This time, Woodstock Station Truck 25 was the one which arrived first at the scene; the crew reported flames coming from the entire first floor and that the roof had collapsed.

A firefighter cuts off security bars on this second story window, while fighting the second fire of the evening at this house.

“It took about 30 minutes to get the fire under control, and crews remained at the house until almost midnight,” Tyler reported.

“PF&R Fire Investigators have determined that the second fire was arson,” Tyler added. “The first fire has been classified as undetermined at this time, and the investigation is ongoing.”

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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