Two east Portland blazes challenge firefighters

They still aren’t saying how they think the commercial fire started; but, they’re pretty sure a child started the house fire – one that could have been much worse, except for the prompt, valiant actions of an off-duty firefighter! We’ve got the photos that tell the story …

SE 82nd Avenue is completely shut down, in the Montavilla Neighborhood, while Portland Fire & Rescue crews battle a potentially-explosive body shop fire.

Story and some photos by David F. Ashton
Crew members of several Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) stations had a lot on their minds as they raced to a commercial building fire about 1:40 a.m. on April 11.

Heading to Finish Line Auto Body at 1133 SE 82nd Avenue of Roses, firefighters knew they’d likely face a fire fueled by the many chemicals used in auto body shops. “They were also concerned about potential explosive hazards as they entered the building to attack the fire,” commented PF&R spokesman Tommy Schroeder.

Once inside, firefighters find the building filled, bumper-to-bumper, with vehicles pulled in for the night for safe keeping.

From as far as six blocks away, firefighters could see smoke billowing into the drizzling night sky, as they drove their engines and trucks to the scene. When they pulled down the shop’s roll-up door, they found obstacles in their way – the shop was tightly packed with vehicles pulled inside the building for safekeeping.

While some crews hooked up water lines and ramped up the engine’s pumps, others searched the burning building. “A search of the premises revealed that nobody was in the building at the time the fire broke out,” Schroder revealed.

Firefighters work to find the seat of the fire, while cooling possible explosive chemicals and trying to avoid electrocution. Greg Muhr, PF&R photo

A shocking scenario
The roaring blaze burned through the electrical service wires, sending power down the gas lines in the building.

“Because the gas lines were in contact with the floor where large amounts of water had pooled, firefighters were receiving mild electrical shocks,” reported Schroeder. “Firefighters had to momentarily alter their attack strategy while the power company shut off electrical service, and then resume their attack on the fire.”

Seven engines, three trucks, two rescue units, three battalion chiefs, one rehab unit – about 70 firefighters in all – brought the blaze under control just before 3:00 a.m.

While some firefighters work inside the structure, others battle the fire on the roof, and find another surprise – the current building surrounds older structures, and has multiple levels of roofs!

“No firefighters were injured in this incident,” Schroder stated.

As of publication, PF&R fire investigators have not announced a cause, nor the damage estimates, of this potentially perilous-to-fight fire. It is also not yet reported how many, if any, of the client cars parked in the building could be saved.

Child with lighter sets family residence ablaze

Firefighters rush to extinguish a fire that started in the bedroom of this Glenfair Neighborhood house. Dick Harris, PF&R Photo*

If it hadn’t been for the effort of a nearby off-duty PF&R firefighter rushing to take immediate action, the fire that badly damaged the 820-square-foot rental house in the Glenfair neighborhood could have been much worse.

On April 12, one of his days off-duty, Portland Fire & Rescue Firefighter Brad Martin was helping friends move. He noticed smoke and fire coming from the house across the street – at 140 NE 156th Avenue.

“The fire was initially discovered by the family’s mother, who saw smoke issuing from the room,” said PF&R spokesman, Gabriel Watson. “She evacuated the home with her children and pets. Firefighter Martin saw this, and responded immediately, ensuring that everyone in the house was evacuated.”

While on-duty firefighters finish the job, off-duty PF&R Firefighter Brad Martin takes a break, after making sure the burning home’s residents were safe, and starting the fire attack. Dick Harris, PF&R Photo

And, proving the adage “You can take the firefighter out of the station house, you can’t take the firefighter out of the man”, Martin grabbed a garden hose and started attacking the fire.

According to Lieutenant Ryan Lindquist, the officer on Engine 30, “When we arrived [Martin] had made significant progress in suppressing the fire from the exterior with a garden hose; he was also able to tell us that everybody was out of the home.”

On-duty PF&R and Gresham firefighters, wearing full turnout gear, quenched the blaze as ther crew members swept through the house, confirming everyone had escaped the smoky blaze.

What started as a mattress fire quickly spread, threatening the structure. Firefighters attack it from the roof and from inside the home. Dick Harris, PF&R Photo

“The fire that displaced a family of three adults, four children, and two dogs, was contained to the front bedroom,” Watson stated. “But, the fire caused extensive smoke damage throughout the home. All escaped the fire uninjured.”

Investigators pegged the loss at $52,500. Watson later added that PF&R Investigators on-scene determined that the cause of the fire was a child playing with a lighter which caught a mattress on fire.

“There were no working smoke detectors in the bedroom or hallway,” said PF&R Investigator Jason Anderson, “The juvenile will be referred to the ‘Youth Firesetting Program’ of the Portland Office of the Fire Marshall.”

Because of what officials say were the actions of a “Juvenile Fire Setter”, this family’s goods are damaged, and they’ll have to find a new place to live.

The Juvenile Fire Setter Program, Anderson pointed out, is an educational program designed to educate parents and children about fire safety and the consequences of fire. “Individuals can help prevent juvenile fire-setting by keeping matches and lighters out of reach of all children. Most children are only involved with fire because it is available.”

“We can’t say it too often,” concluded Watson: “Working smoke detectors are inexpensive, easy to install and use – and they do save lives.”

* Again, we thank Dick Harris, a retired firefighter, for his great on-scene photos.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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