Massive Madison South fire was ‘intentionally set’

UPDATED: Fire investigators ask for help! See the damage left by this outer East Portland arson fire. And, learn how a local business which escaped devastation is helping nearby residents …

-1 Soon after their arrival in the Madison South neighborhood, firefighters, looking south from NE Siskiyou Street, realize that the fire is considerably south of the originally dispatched area. Portland Fire & Rescue image

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Thick smoke, then the flames in the long-abandoned golf driving range that’s now overgrown with brush along NE 82nd Avenue of Roses, brought many calls to the 9-1-1 Center on August 26 at 5:20 p.m.

Some thought that the Dharma Rain Zen Center, located off NE Siskiyou Street, might have caught fire; but, in fact, someone at that facility was the first to report the brushfire – as winds were fanning the blaze to the south, along the ridge of the large grassy bowl of the driving range.

-2 Wind whips flames into buildings east of 82nd Avenue of Roses. Courtesy The Lumberyard Indoor Bike Park

Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) sent two off-road “urban/wildland interface” engines to fight the fire; but in fact, firefighters from Rose City Station 28 and Gateway Station 30 themselves arrived just minutes after the initial dispatch.

As the wind-whipped flames moved south along the ridge, just east of NE 82nd Avenue of Roses, owners of businesses along NE Russell Street began to evacuate.

-3 As seen the following day, five town homes were badly damaged in the fire.

Business owners weren’t the only ones concerned. Residents of the Madison Place Town Homes, backed up along NE Knott Street directly in the fire’s path, also began to grab possessions and run.

“We heard a bunch of explosions coming from behind the buildings [to the west of the townhomes] and wondered what was blowing up,” said resident Lorena Fargo. “We looked out, saw the smoke and fire, grabbed a couple of things and ran.” She spoke with East Portland News the day after the fire.

-4 Some fifty vehicles, stored here – just west of the town homes – caught fire; some reportedly exploded.

PF&R Incident commanders asked for more resources by calling for a “second alarm” – and requested that the electric power grid in the area be shut down. It wasn’t long until a third and then a fourth “alarm” were called, eventually bringing 40 units – including five ladder trucks, and about 120 firefighters, to the scene.

-5 The next day, fire crews were continuing to hose down this building.

The building that once housed an Olympic-sized swimming pool – long filled in with gravel – was gutted. However, firefighters were able to save the large townhome development from being incinerated, although at least five of them were severely damaged.

-6 She’s appreciative that firefighters were able to find her father’s cremains in the rubble – says burned out town home neighbor Alexandra Lombardo, holding them as she speaks.

The next day, Alexandra Lombardo said was on her way back from the coast when she learned that the area had experienced a fire. “When got there, I jumped out of the car, and ran in because I was worried about my cat,” she said. Lombardo was able to rescue her cat, but the fire, that started in the attic, burned the contents of the upstairs rooms.

Because of the fire damage to the buildings, Lombardo said she wasn’t allowed to reenter her unit. “But the firefighters were great; they searched for my dad [his cremains]; it’s a really small little urn, and they found him on the second level, in one piece, so I was really thankful,” Lombardo said.

This charred driving range canopy is an “area of interest” to arson investigators, as show on this low-resolution PF&R graphic (inset).

At a press conference the day after the fire, PF&R officials told reporters that while they don’t know what touched off the conflagration, there are indications that it was “human caused”.

The “area of interest” to PF&R Arson Investigators was pointed out as being northwest of the burn zone, just under the ridge along NE 82nd Avenue of Roses – likely under the covering of the derelict golf driving range.

“Under the driving range canopy is an entire [homeless] village,” said neighbor George Fostenberg. “The [abandoned] property owner doesn’t care; I’m surprised there hasn’t been a big fire there before now,” he told East Portland News.

The afternoon after the fire, Will Heiberg says he’s grateful that their business, The Lumberyard Indoor Bike Park, was spared.

Will Heiberg, one of the owners of The Lumberyard Indoor Bike Park, was keeping his eye on the fire approaching their building, located in the southern path of the blaze, on SE 82nd Avenue of Roses, but facing NE Russell Street.

“With all of the smoke and flames, it felt apocalyptic,” Heiberg told East Portland News the afternoon after the fire. “This fire could have been life-ending, had the townhomes caught fire, or the commercial buildings not been evacuated.”

PF&R Mill Park Station #7’s Ladder Truck snorkel pours water onto the roof of The Lumberyard Indoor Bike Park, thus saving it. PF&R image

“We have some water and smoke damage inside, and a little damage to the roof, but we’ll be okay” Heiberg said. “But last night, at 6:00 p.m., I’d have told you that there was no way firefighters could save our business, but they did.

“We feel very fortunate, because with a little shift in the wind, or a dozen other things happening, our building would have burned to the ground,” Heiberg commented. “My ‘hat’s off’ to the incredible work the firefighters did.”

Helping residents who’ve been burned out of their homes, area businesses have started fundraising efforts.

“While we’re really fortunate, there were many homes that were damaged by the fire,” Heiberg said.

“So, some of our proceeds from “ourday passes’ and pizza sales, during the month of September, will go to help those neighbors, and, we’re starting a GoFundMe page to help those who were displaced,” Heiberg stated To donate, CLICK HERE.

The business next door, nonprofit Grand Avenue Boxing Club, didn’t fare as well; all of the athletes training inside got out safely, but their training facility was badly damaged.

“Most all of our equipment including our boxing ring has been destroyed, but thankfully we still have four walls and half a roof,” said Osvaldo Rojas, via social media. “When boxers go down, we get up and keep going,” a fighter posted on social media. To contribute to their GoFundMe campaign, CLICK HERE.


This still frame, was taken from a surveillance video, in the area of NE 82nd Avenue of Roses and Siskiyou Street, just minutes before a 4th alarm fire. Can you identify the suspect?

If you have any information about who the person is, seen in this still frame, and/or their whereabouts please call the fire investigations tip line at 503-823-4636. Or, reach out to the Portland Police Crime Stoppers — and perhaps receive a reward — by giving information ont heir website: CLICK HERE.

© 2019 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™



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