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Million dollar loss in church camp's fire

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - As fire breaks through the eaves, firefighters below hit the flames with a water stream, protecting the crew member working high on a ladder. When construction workers building cabins at the Apostolic Faith Church Campground on S.E. 52nd first smelled smoke, and then saw it billowing out of the Camp Office building, they called 9-1-1 on Thursday, February 2nd.

Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Woodstock Station 25 truck and engine companies were first at the campground, long a fixture on S.E. Duke Street, just east of 52nd Avenue. Their rigs were soon followed by crews from stations all over Inner Southeast Portland, as well as by Clackamas Fire District Truck #2.

Five minutes after the fire was called in at 10:43 am, THE BEE was on-scene, observing PF&R Battalion Chiefs and Station Commanders formulating a plan to find and fight a fire raging inside the large building – it looks rather like an airport hanger – which a church worker said was constructed in 1947.

As some firefighters confirmed reports that all occupants had left the building, others searched for the seat of the fire.

“Once they realized the extent of the fire, incident commanders called for a ‘second alarm’, bringing in additional apparatus and crew,” PF&R Public Information Officer Lt. Rich Chatman told us later.

“Crews reported that sections of the bow-shaped roof and attic floor appeared to be failing; as a result, incident commanders ordered all firefighters to evacuate the interior of the building,” Chatman added.

“Typically, ladder truck crews cut holes in the roof, allowing hot gasses, smoke and heat to escape,” Chatman explained. “But this type of roof can also fail with little to no warning, especially in the case of a fire located in the attic.”

Firefighters checked the breezeway that connects the Camp Office with the larger, similarly-constructed Tabernacle building, and reported no smoke or flames there.

As the blaze intensified, it became clear to firefighters it was located toward the back of the structure, in the attic area.

Crews were eventually able to re-enter the building and completely extinguish the fire.

“Fire investigators said that the fire likely started in a wall near the attic, and that they are looking closely at some of the electrical wiring in that wall,” Chatman later reported. “They estimate that the total loss will be close to $1,000,000.”