Montavilla garment factory fire was intentionally set, officials say

ARSON! Fire investigators say they have clear evidence that someone intentionally set this 1931-era outer East Portland commercial building ablaze …

As day breaks, Portland Fire & Rescue Ladder Trucks continue to pour water on the ruins of a two-story commercial building in the Montavilla-East Tabor Business District.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Instead of going to work the morning as usual of April 19, the owner and staff of Portland Garment Factory – the business calls itself a “full-service creative design and fabrication studio – found only the crumbling shell of a building, and smoldering rubble.

At 3:31 a.m. that morning, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews were dispatched to the building, located at 408 SE 79th Avenue – a half-block north of Stark Street, behind the rear parking lot of the Bipartisan Café.

As one ladder company after another pulls up – this one, along SE Stark Street – a fire already rages in this warehouse-style building. PF&R image

When crews arrived, they found heavy fire and smoke coming from the second floor of the two-story building. “Firefighters worked to extinguish the fire by using multiple large hose lines inside the structure, but were forced to withdraw to an ‘exterior firefighting’ strategy,” PF&R Lt. Elizabeth Thompson told reporters.

2nd and 3rd Alarms called
Then, 22 minutes into the firefight, crews radioed to the Incident Commander that they saw the building’s walls bulging near the roofline – so firefighters were ordered out of it. That also triggered a “2nd Alarm” call to bring more equipment and crews to the fire.

After the roof collapses, firefighters spray water onto and into the blazing building from all sides. Image courtesy of Dennis Weis, via PF&R

Minutes later, large sections of the roof collapsed; fortunately, all of the crew members had by then safely made it out of the blazing structure.

“12 occupants of an apartment building next door were evacuated by firefighters as smoke and heat began threatening their apartments, and other buildings nearby,” said PF&R Public Information Officer Lt. Rich Chatman.

Crews here along SE 79th Avenue, kept the apartment building, behind the flowering tree, from catching fire.

The fire was again upgraded – to a 3rd Alarm conflagration – due to the size of the fire, the potential for structural collapse, the evacuation of an adjacent apartments and businesses, the potential spread of the flames to nearby buildings, and to relieve crewmembers needing a break.

“More than 20 of the 31 fire stations in the City of Portland were emptied – bringing some 100 firefighters to the incident – to battle this commercial fire, evacuate residents in the immediate hazard zone and protect the adjacent property,” Chatman informed.

In the light of day, the damage to this building – officials are calling it an arson – becomes very evident.

“Fire investigators were also called in; and after reviewing witness testimony and physical evidence at the scene, they determined the fire to be arson,” Chatman announced. “A security camera captured a suspect starting the fire in a nearby dumpster, which then spread up an exterior wall and into the building.”

PF&R investigators would like help in identifying the subject seen in this video; CLICK HERE to view it.

Anyone with information about the suspected arsonist is asked to call and report it at 503-823-INFO (4636).

> On our Front Page: Image courtesy of Dennis Weis, via PF&R.

© 2021 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News™


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