Unusual construction makes Centennial neighborhood house fire difficult to fight

No official word, yet, of just how this blaze, that that caused serious damage and displaced families, started …

Most of the fire damage was on the south side of the building – tucked away behind the two-story addition, on SE Morrison Street, just west of SE 155th Avenue.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It was Portland Fire & Rescue’s (PF&R) turn to staff Station 31, the firehouse on the Portland/Gresham border at SE 174th Avenue, on August 12. The crew on duty was dispatched on a report of smoke.

The crew of Engine Company 31 reported to Fire Dispatch seeing a column of thick, dark smoke as they neared the area, navigating the series of dead-end streets a couple blocks south of SE Stark Street. They already knew it couldn’t simply be a backyard barbecue at the residences located at 735 SE 155th Avenue.

The alarm came in at 8:11 p.m.; Engine 31 rolled up to the scene, and started pulling out hoses and fighting the fire, just four minutes later – at 8:15 p.m.

As we drove to the scene, we heard an emergency radio report of a woman being taken from the fire scene to Adventist Medical Center to be treated for minor smoke inhalation.

Firefighters scale ladders to open areas in the roof and eves where fire still lingered.

“This is a house that was converted into a duplex,” Battalion Chief Jim Forquer told us at the scene, after the fire was knocked down. “There was very heavy fire involvement in the first-story unit. The fire extended to the second-story unit; we’re finding fire involvement in the attic and the second-story section, also.”

The unusual configuration of the structure made fighting the more challenging, Forquer reported. “In effect, we were fighting two house fires at one time. Another aspect is the significant size of this building. It looks like there is access into both parts of the building; but they are, in fact, separate residences.”

Inside and out, firefighters seek out hotspots that remain after this fire.

Rescued by anonymous neighbor
Neighbor Maryanne Mason said she saw someone run into the burning house, and come out helped a groggy-looking woman out of the first-story residence. Several neighbors speculated about how the fire started; but, PF&R investigators have yet to reveal what they believe caused the fire.

“There were operating smoke detectors in the structure,” said PF&R spokesman Lt. Allen Oswalt. “The initial report by our inspectors indicates that the residence’s fire detector operated, but the occupant did not respond.”

The fire caused a $115,000 loss to the building, and a loss to its contents estimated at $200,000, Oswalt reported.

Five fire engines, two trucks, and “mutual aid” response by both Gresham Fire and Police, helped PF&R and the Portland Police Bureau at the scene.

After putting out the blaze, these first-attack firefighters take time to rehydrate before going back to the structure.

© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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