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Gas-fed fire chars one home, singes another

3 ALARMS IN WOODSTOCK


by: CONTRIBUTED BY J. MARK RIPKEY - Firefighters pull back, after the second story floor collapses and flames burst out the window.Milwaukie resident Kristen Jung was walking by the house at 5811 S.E. 41st Avenue, just south of Ramona Street, in the Woodstock neighborhood, on June 14, around 9 am.

She heard what she described as a very loud popping sound, like firecrackers – and then smelled an odor she associated with an overheating electrical system. Ominously, she also saw a huge plume of dark grey smoke billow out of the structure.

“There were tall flames exploding out of the back side of the building,” Jung told THE BEE. “Two people came out with their dogs. There was literally a wall of fire coming out the back.”

9-1-1 received the first call about the fire at 9:23 am; Portland Fire & Rescue Woodstock Station 25 crews arrived at 9:27, as logged by the computerized dispatch system.

Nearby resident Scott Smith said he saw fire trucks and engines “hauling, at probably 40 mph – flying over the speed bumps. I was thinking, ‘I hope the guy on the back of the truck doesn’t fall off’.”

It became clear to fire crews that the house had been on fire for some time before anyone called 9-1-1 to report it. “By the time the engines got here, it was clear that the second house [to the north] was in danger, too.”

“The Battalion Chief called for a ‘second alarm’ upon arrival,” Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Public Information Officer Lt. Rich Chatman told THE BEE at the scene. “This brings in additional resources.”

Chatman later confirmed what firefighters suspected, as they fought through the inferno: A broken gas line was feeding the flames. “Inside, firefighters found that the second story floor had partially collapsed.”

Paramedics noticed that a resident of the house was burned, and the man was rushed by ambulance for treatment.

As flames continued to spread through the 2,124 square foot home, which had been built in 1916, the PF&R Incident Commander ordered a “withdraw” from the structure, to ensure that no firefighters would be injured.

Eyewitness Jung said that because no one appeared to be at home in the house to the north – a 1,546 square feet home built in 1904, at 5805 S.E. 41st Avenue – firefighters “broke down the front door” to make entry, and laddered up the sides of the structure to start extinguishing flames.

“Crews began a ‘defensive’ exterior fire suppression effort. with hose lines being applied from outside both structures,” said Chatman.

Before long, the Incident Commander called for a third alarm – bringing firefighters in from firehouses across the city. Later, it was remarked that this had been the first three-alarm house fire in Portland in many years. By 10:15 am there were fifteen PF&R engines and trucks, from stations 25, 20, 21, 19, 10, 9, 8, 5, and 4 at the fire – in addition to a half-dozen other fire and police vehicles.

“The additional crews provided desperately-needed relief and support,” Chatman said. “Both of these structures had building construction consistent with older homes, which made it difficult to locate and extinguish fire hidden in the walls and attic.”

Although the fire continued to flare up for about an hour after the first firefighters arrived, the blaze was considered “under control” at just after 11 am.

A man who said he was the owner of the house that first caught fire told THE BEE that he was having the upstairs of the home remodeled, and the person working on it had a lot of heavy power equipment, drawing current from an old-style fuse-box electrical system.

Hours later, at 6:15 pm., the displaced occupants were still arranging for housing. The burn victim said his hand “hurt like crazy” but that he was “otherwise okay”. Neighbor Brian Barisch had set up a piece of plywood on top of a blue recycling cart, and supplied the five victim residents with water and snacks.

“Fire investigators say the cause is still undetermined,” Chatman reported. “The damage assessment is $150,000 on the primary house and $50,000 on the neighboring home.” (Merry MacKinnon also contributed to this story; additional photographs were contributed by BEE reader J. Mark Ripkey.)