Vacant house blaze scorches neighboring homes

See astounding photos of firefighters extinguishing this 2-alarm fire in the Wilkes neighborhood …

Firefighters arrive at the scene, and find a vacant house fully-engulfed in flames. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

By David F. Ashton
A Wilkes neighbor sounded understandably disturbed when she called the 9-1-1 Center to report the sound of breaking glass next door at 2:20 a.m. on May 28. The tension in her voice rose when she then told the operator she now heard the sound of breaking window glass in her own house.

Outside, red and orange flames lit the sky at the vacant circa-1997 ranch-style house, located in outer East Portland at 14932 NE Graham Street, next door to the caller’s own home. The sizable houses in this subdivision are tightly-spaced on this side of the block, and they back up against the retaining wall of Interstate 84.

Even with powerful streams of water pouring in on the flames, the fire in this house continues to roil. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

“Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews arrived and found heavy fire and smoke from a vacant residence,” recounted PF&R Public Information Officer Lt. Rich Chatman. “The fire was extending to the homes on either side of the fire-involved structure.

“When the incident commander at the scene saw fire erupting from the house, the Battalion Chief called for a ‘second alarm’, almost doubling the number of fire engine and ladder truck crews on hand to deal with the possible three house fires.”

Firefighters work to keep the home next door to the blazing structure from also burning down. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Crews continue to extinguish the main fire. Note the damage to the house adjacent to the main fire. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

Peeling melted vinyl siding off the house, firefighters look for any embers beneath that could rekindle the fire. Greg Muhr, PF&R photo

The siding was melting off the houses on either side of main fire structure, and the underlying wood was starting to smolder. “The residents on the occupied homes were able evacuate safely,” Chatman said.

Into the pre-dawn hours, crews put out hotspots in the shell of the now burned-out house. And, other firefighters peeled off melted and burnt siding, making sure no embers remained to set fire to the neighboring structures.

The house next door (on the left) appears to have received substantial fire damage. East Portland News photo

“It looked like an arson investigator was looking around the [burned out] house,” said neighbor Sally Fulkerson told East Portland News later that morning. “They had a dog with them; it was sniffing all around the place.”

So far, PF&R hasn’t released the fire investigator’s findings, including a damage assessment for any of the three homes.

After the 2-alarm fire, it appears as if it may be some time before this part of the neighborhood gets back to normal. East Portland News photo

American Red Cross Cascades Region provided four adults from one of the fire-affected houses with lodging, food, clothing, shoes, comfort kits, and information about disaster mental health and disaster health services.

> On our Front Page: PF&R Photographer Dick Harris captures extraordinary images of firefighters at work, in the Wilkes neighborhood.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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