Two East Portland houses charred by fire in same day

Find out why some Lents neighbors say they hope that one of those houses will now be torn down …

Firefighters arrive to find not one, but two houses involved in fire – right across the street from Kelly Elementary School. PF&R photo

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Two outer East Portland houses caught fire, nine hours apart, on November 27. The first incident was in the Lents neighborhood.

Vagrant squatter may have sparks fire
in ‘vacant’ Lents house

About 7:30 a.m. Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) stations were dispatched to 92nd Avenue and SE Foster Road on the report of a house fire. But, PF&R’s Engine 11 crew spotted thick, dark smoke coming from the area of Kelly Elementary School.

When they arrived at 6914 SE 91st Avenue, directly across from the school, they found a recently boarded up ranch-style house on fire, as well as shingles smoldering on the house immediately to the south of that address.

Crews use chainsaws to cut open boarded up windows and doors to look for potential squatters, trapped by the fire. PF&R photo

Neighbors told arriving firefighters that squatters had moved into the house and were perhaps trapped inside because of the barricaded windows and doors.

“When crews arrived, and began to fight the fire, Truck 25 was assigned ‘search and rescue’ immediately upon their arrival to attempt a rescue of any occupants inside,” said PF&R Public Information Officer Lt. Rich Chatman.

Crews from PF&R Engine 11 throttle down their rig’s pump, after extinguishing two house fires, one next to the other.

Those firefighters made forcible entry and searched – but found no one.

“We were told by the man, who said he was staying in one of the sheds behind the house, that he’d gone to the store before the fire broke out,” said a crew member told East Portland News.

The fire is assumed to have started in a shed, now cinders, and set the wooden fence ablaze

… which set the shingles of the house next door on fire

… and lit the vacant house on fire.

From what was learned from neighbors, the fire was suspected to have started in a shed behind the house. The flames set the wooden fence ablaze, which ignited the shingles on the home to the south. From there, the flames spread back to the original house, making it what they call a “triple exposure fire”.

Occupants of the house next door said that, although smoke had gotten into their house, firefighters stopped the flames from getting up into the eves and the attic space.

“We haven’t had problems with homeless people camping at that house,” one of two men said. “I don’t see this as a big deal.”

Neighbors say they wonder why a “vacant” house – with no utilities for more than a year – has a fresh cord of firewood stacked up against the boarded up front door.

A man named “Dave” spoke with reporters and said he’d lived in the home until about four months ago. He stated that he’d left tools, including three chain saws and other personal goods, in one of several sheds behind the house.

His using the term “lived in” may have been accurate, but whether or not he was residing legally at the location may be in question.

Public records show that Portland housing inspectors issued a complaint for “No power, no water, trash all over” on October 16, 2012, and another on November 11, 2012 – and again on January 11, 2013.

Records show the occupant claimed it was a “residential rental” – but there were no utilities connected to the structure for longer than a year.

Ownership of goods inside this “vacant” house – and the power tools left outside – remain in question.

After another inspection on August 14, a “board up” was ordered, paid for by the City, that was completed on October 7.

“We keep calling the Housing Bureau” said Timothy Andrews, who said he moved into the area in the 1970s. “Finally, they came and boarded up the place last month. But, it makes no difference – as criminals, they don’t care how they’re dragging down Lents, and turning it into ‘Crime City’.”

The man who told firefighters he’d been living behind the house, in the shed that had burned, casually walked back to where the remaining sheds are located, after firefighters left the area.

‘Cluttered house’ hinders extinguishing
Mill Park house fire

Firefighters begin to knock down flames licking up the walls of this Mill Park home. Dick Harris photo for PF&R

But the work of the Portland Fire Bureau in East Portland was not done for that day. At 5:08 p.m., PF&R rolled out to a house fire located at 12325 SE Lincoln Street. Firefighters from nearby Station 7 on SE 122nd Avenue arrived first, and reported seeing “heavy fire showing” from the front of a house.

“The home’s residents told firefighters that all occupants and pets were out and safe,” Chatman said.

Ventilation gear fans the flames, causing fire to roll out of the back of the structure. Dick Harris photo for PF&R

Trying to navigate through what Chatman characterized as “heavy clutter” in thick smoke, firefighters had difficulty finding the stairway to the second story. Crews though they had the fire knocked down and ordered fans to provide power ventilation – until fire burst out the eves and second story windows.

“Crews had additional difficulties,” Chatman described. “Firefighters reported arcing power lines that came in contact with the fire on the front side of the house.

From inside and out, firefighters battle this house fire. Dick Harris photo for PF&R

“Also, firefighters had to work around weak floors and heavy clutter on the second story of the residence, as they chased fire that was spreading up the home’s walls,” Chatman added.

The truck companies laddered onto the roof, and began cutting “vertical ventilation” holes to allow smoke and heat to escape so that crews work in the upper floor.

Fire and hot gasses belch out of vertical ventilation holes cut in the roof of the house. Dick Harris photo for PF&R

After about an hour, the fire was brought under control; although crew members stayed on into the night, putting out hotspots.

A fire investigator was called to the scene to determine a cause and damage assessment, but no report has yet been release.

> Photo on our front page by Dick Harris, for Portland Fire & Rescue

© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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