Season’s first ‘heater fire’ displaces two families, in Parkrose Heights

Find out why firefighters don’t look forward to the first real cold snap of the season – and more importantly – learn some simple things you can do to keep you and your family safe, when the thermometer dips low at night …

A Portland Fire & Rescue firefighter carries a hose bundle to a fire that might have burned this four-plex to the ground, had it not been for their swift action. Dick Harris/PF&R photo

Story by David F. Ashton; photos by Dick Harris
As the summer ends, and nighttime temperatures fall, firefighters brace themselves for another season of weather-related fires.

The first of the season came early, on August 29, when an apartment fire was reported at 11:58 a.m. in the 11000 block of NE Broadway Street in the Parkrose Heights Neighborhood.

Four minutes after being dispatched, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Engine 30’s crew rolled up to a single-story four-plex. “The crew saw gray smoke showing from an apartment,” reported PF&R spokesman Lt. Damon Simmons. “Fire crews made entry and found a significant amount of fire in one apartment. It was spreading to another apartment, and fire had also infiltrated the attic space.”

Firefighters carry ladders and lug tools to access a fire that had spread into the residential building’s attic. Dick Harris/PF&R photo

In total, five PF&R Engines and two Truck Companies came on-scene, as firefighters immediately began attacking the fire and searching for victims. Crews from multiple fire stations are always dispatched to active multi-dwelling fires, Simmons noted.

“This firefight was made more difficult by an excessive amount of debris inside the apartment,” Simmons said. “Fire crews were however able to get the fire under control relatively quickly.”
No one was injured in this fire, but three people were displaced, Simmons said. “Two apartments are uninhabitable; a female lived in one unit, and the other was home to a couple. While the Red Cross will be assisting the woman with finding shelter, the couple will stay with friends or family.”

Working quickly, firefighters move to the roof to help extinguish the blaze, and to keep it from spreading to another building. Dick Harris/PF&R photo

PF&R Investigators went to work looking for the cause of the blaze as soon as the fire was extinguished. The crew of Engine 30 stayed on “fire-watch”, to make sure there weren’t any hotspots that could later flare up.

Simmons subsequently reported, “Investigators have determined that this fire was caused by a couch and debris that was located too close to a baseboard heater.” A heater? In the summertime? Yes, people have a tendency to leave them thermostatically set, and when the first cold snap of fall occurs, the heater comes on automatically. People forget about it during the summer, and pile inflammables in front of it.

The loss in this fire is estimated at $70,000 – and the additional tragedy was that two households were left homeless, all because of “preventable” fire.

Working on the roof, and below, firefighters make sure this blaze has been extinguished. Dick Harris/PF&R photo

We talked with PF&R’s chief spokesman Paul Corah this week about the “fire season” that comes every year as temperatures get chilly at night.

“It happens every year,” Corah confirmed. “Fires like this happen whenever we have a seasonal change. These fires can be easily prevented.”

Simple, effective tips Corah gave included:

  • Make sure your furnace is in good working order, and that you’ve installed clean filters in a forced-air heating system;
  • Keep furniture, clothing – in fact everything – at least six inches away from baseboard heaters; and,
  • Make sure stand-alone electric heaters have plenty of clear space around them – and do NOT use extension cords.

So, before you turn up your heat this fall, check out your home or business to make sure you stay safe, while being warm.

Hours after the fire has been doused, PF&R Engine 30 firefighters are on “fire watch” to make sure the blaze doesn’t rekindle. David F. Ashton/East Portland News photo

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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