Two Lents apartment fires, within a block and a week of each other – and one death

The flame of an knocked-over candle, officials say, caused the untimely death of one elderly victim, and many others are displaced. Exclusive (but not graphic) photos accompany our story …

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Two apartment house fires – a block apart, just north of SE Holgate Boulevard – caused substantial damage, and displaced many residents.

An evening fire on December 3 resulted in minor injuries; the December 9 blaze sent an elderly woman to the hospital with serious, and ultimately fatal, burns.

All of the approximately 80 residents of Lents Village Apartments, a senior housing center, were evacuated, when a woman’s clothing – and her room – caught fire when a candle overturned.

Lents Village Apartments fire caused by candle
Reports of a resident’s clothing on fire, and a room ablaze, brought fire firefighters from Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Station 11 racing to the four-story apartment building at 10325 SE Holgate Boulevard called Lents Village Apartments – a senior housing center operated by ROSE Community Development.

Firefighters arrived at 8:41 am on December 9, four minutes after being summoned, and they quickly located the victim on the top floor.

At the scene, PF&R Public Information Officer Paul Corah told us, “Her clothes were on fire, and they quickly helped extinguish the flames by covering her with a blanket. Her apartment unit was also on fire.”

A trail of singed and burned garments trail behind, as firefighters provide initial medical care for the burn victim.

The burn victim is rushed to the hospital, as is another resident, who choked on the thick smoke produced by the fire.

While firefighters administered medical aid to the 85-year-old female burn victim, Corah said, trucks and engines were pulling up – from as far away as Station 2, on NE 122nd Avenue, north of NE Sandy Boulevard. “The victim was transported to the Emanuel Hospital Burn Center.”

“Additional firefighters worked to confirm that the fire was out,” Corah added. “Three sprinklers on the fourth floor had activated. These sprinklers, and fire-rated doors, helped contain the fire to the area of origin.”

-4 Firefighters work in the hallway of the building’s fourth floor to make sure the fire is out. The fire sprinkler system did its job – but left everything soaked. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

As mop-up operations get underway, Portland Fire & Rescue Investigators interview a resident of the facility.

When we arrived, water was cascading out of the burned unit in a waterfall, as firefighters used squeegees to push waves of water off the unit’s balcony.

“A second elderly female from the apartment unit next door to the fire unit suffered from smoke inhalation, and was also transported to an area hospital with non-life threatening injuries,” Corah added. “

The apartment building contains 63 units, and houses approximately 80 residents, Corah pointed out. “All other residents were accounted for and safely evacuated. The last resident to evacuate, an elderly male who is also blind, was assisted from his apartment unit to safety by Lt. Grant Stanbro.”

The full extent of the fire’s damage has yet to be determined – mostly due to the extensive water damage. You can see it pouring off of the affected apartment’s balcony.

The water from the sprinkler heads cascaded down hallways, and ran through lighting and electrical fixtures into the rooms below. The apartment building sustained $52,000 in damage as a result.

Working on scene at this Lents Neighborhood fire, PF&R spokesman Paul Corah gets details of the incident from the Battalion Chief on duty.

Later that day Corah announced sad news – the elderly burn victim had passed away. “Our hearts and thoughts are with the woman’s family. Even though firefighters arrived within minutes and rescued her, and she was quickly transported to the hospital, she had suffered extensive burns to over 50 percent of her body, and had been exposed to a large quantity of smoke in a short period of time.”

After careful examination, Corha stated, PF&R investigators have determined that the fire began in the victim’s apartment after a candle was lit, and accidentally fell to the floor, igniting her clothing. “Due to the fact that each individual living unit had a fire-suppression sprinkler system, the fire was confined to the unit of origin.”

Asked what could be learned from this tragedy, Corah responded, “If your clothing catches on fire, the most effective way to extinguish a fire is to ‘stop, drop, and roll’. Running just fuels the flames; so stop where you are. Drop to the floor, and slowly roll over and over.”

Holgate Plaza Apartments

This apartment house fire, also in Lents, just off SE Holgate Boulevard, brought a large number of Portland Fire & Rescue trucks and engines on December 3rd.

About a week earlier, on December 3, firefighters had responded to reports of flames shooting from a second floor apartment at an apartment complex at 4333 SE 104th Avenue.

Fire rigs rolled toward the scene at 5:54 pm and arrived four minutes later.

“The caller reported that there was heavy smoke in her apartment, and she could not find her way out,” said PF&R spokesman at the scene, Tommy Schroeder. “Firefighters found flames coming from the second story windows, and heavy dark smoke in the stairwell up the building.”

Firefighters hustle up ladders at the Holgate Plaza Apartments to fight the fire.

Working both at and inside the burned apartment unit, crews quickly snuff out the blaze.

While squads pulled water lines and started to attack the fire, others searched the building, Schroeder continued. “The occupant of the burning apartment went across the hallway, and into the adjacent unit; he sheltered in-place there. Firefighters found both of them, a 29-year-old female and a 79-year-old male, and assisted them from their apartments.”

PF&R Battalion Chief C3 Richard Stenhouse talks with a resident in the apartment complex.

Both were treated for smoke inhalation at the scene by paramedics, reported Schroeder. “Their injuries did not necessitate transport to a hospital.”

After the fire, Corah advised, “Make sure your home has properly-installed and working smoke alarms – and plan and practice a fire escape plan. In case of a fire, get out and stay out.”

PF&R spokesman at the scene, Tommy Schroeder, tells about this multi-family dwelling fire.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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