Two narrowly escape death in SE Portland house fire

Learn what two mistakes almost cost the lives of two house-sitters, when an early morning blaze erupted …

Firefighters did their best to save this house on S.E. 76th Avenue, after a fire broke out in the bedroom. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Just before 5:00 a.m., the stillness of the early morning hours on November 3 was shattered, as flames ripped through the modest rental house at 6750 SE 76th Ave.

According to Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) records, the fire called in at 4:50 a.m., and the first engine arrived at the blazing house four minutes later.

A person who said he was a next door neighbor told us that the occupant of the house was visiting friends in Eugene; his roommate and a visiting friend were “house-sitting” in the home, just north of their residence.

“Prior to the arrival of firefighters, a Portland Police sergeant, on patrol in the area, reported that the house was ‘fully engulfed in flames’,” reported PF&R spokesman Lt. Allen Oswalt. “When firefighters arrived, they confirmed the sergeant’s report and began ‘fire attack’ and rescue operations.”

With firefighters attacking the fire from all sides, and from the roof, one was injured. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Oswalt said an occupant in the burning home told investigators, “I woke up, saw flames climbing up the drapes. I ran out and woke up my roommate on the way, and we both got out.”

Of the twenty firefighters that responded in three engines and one truck, one firefighter was injured while operating a saw on the roof of the house, Oswalt said. “He was transported to Portland Adventist hospital with a cut to the leg.”

As soon as the fire was extinguished, PF&R investigators were on scene and sifting through the rubble in an attempt to identify the cause of the fire. Investigators learned that one man was asleep in the bedroom, where the fire started; the other was sleeping on the living room couch.

Tries to rescue pets
Although the men first tried to quench the blaze, it spread quickly; they then focused their efforts on saving pets.

“One said he felt the flames licking at his leg and woke up the other one,” the next door neighbor reported. “They tried to get out the pets. They got two dogs out, but couldn’t rescue a Chihuahua hiding in the corner; and two cats died.”

In the light of day, it appears that the house, and it contents, are a total loss.

“It appears that both the front and rear doors of the residence were left open during the evacuation,” Oswalt noted, “and due to the air circulation, the fire burned fiercely and hot, spread rapidly throughout the interior of this structure.”

The neighbor commented, “I’ve seen programs on fire safety they talk about how fast a fire can move. Until I saw this, I had no idea how fast it can go from a small fire to a really big one, like this was.”

“Investigators determined that ‘combustibles too close to a baseboard heater’ caused this fire,” Oswalt later told us. “And, there wasn’t a working fire alarm in the structure. Because of these two factors, these two men were lucky to get out alive.”

This fire could have cost the two house sitters their lives, officials say.

Lessons that can save your life
As cold weather moves into the Portland area, Oswald said one of the most frequent causes of residential fires is combustibles close to heaters – flammable things need to be at least three feet away from a heat source – and more is better.

“Use great caution with portable electric heaters,” Oswalt added. “Make sure not to use extension cords with them, keep them on the floor where they can’t get knocked over, and keep flammable items far way from them.”

But, electric baseboard and wall heaters pose a hidden danger, Oswalt continued. “These heaters, controlled by a thermostat, turn on without warning when temperatures drop. Always keep combustibles at least three feet from these types of heaters.”

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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