Over a dozen rescued in Ore. apartment fire
Portland firefighters are concerned about structural collapse after a 4-alarm fire destroyed the building a day after fire inspectors did a walk-through
By Savannah Eadens, Catalina Gaitán
PORTLAND, Ore. — A four-alarm fire ripped through a Southwest Portland apartment building Tuesday morning, causing extensive damage and raising the possibility the building will collapse.
The blaze sent heavy, black smoke throughout downtown Portland and surrounding areas, leading to the closure of streets and highways.
Firefighters responded to the building, at 1410 S.W. Taylor Street in the Goose Hollow neighborhood, at about 10 a.m., according to Portland Fire & Rescue spokesperson Rick Graves. They entered the building, sprinted down the hallways and banged on doors, yelling to residents to come out and that it wasn’t a false alarm.
Firefighters evacuated more than a dozen people and at least two dogs, Graves said. The bureau said it’s “confident” everyone got out of the building, which was built in 1910 and had about 60 units. It was unclear Tuesday afternoon, however, how many people lived in the building. “All things lead us to believe everyone got out safely,” Graves said.
Rescues currently underway. pic.twitter.com/96UWK1F9Bu— Portland Fire & Rescue (@PDXFire) May 16, 2023
The fire’s cause is unknown at this time, but the blaze appears to have started on the third floor and jumped to the fourth, Graves said. There were multiple explosions. One firefighter was hit in the forehead with glass while standing across the street. He wiped the cut with gauze, put his helmet on and returned to fighting the fire, Graves said. Another firefighter experienced a “cardiac concern,” Graves added.
Because the structure is so old, fire officials are “absolutely” concerned about it collapsing, Graves told reporters at the scene. Two buildings south of the structure sustained water and smoke damage but are expected to reopen.
Portland General Electric turned off power to the area at the fire bureau’s request.
Photos and video shot by Portland Fire & Rescue show smoke billowing from the windows of the four-story structure as firefighters evacuated and rescued tenants and pets from the fire-escape stairs on the building’s facade.
About an hour after arriving on the scene, the fire bureau’s on-scene commanders directed crews to withdraw from the building because the fire was still growing and it was “unsafe,” Graves said. At 11:45 a.m., the bureau said crews were performing a “Personal Accountability Report” — making sure all firefighters were accounted for. Graves later said crews did three checks for its firefighters.
Flames were still jumping out of the roofline at 12:30 p.m. as fire engines poured water onto the structure from hoses and cranes.
Residents standing at the corner of Southwest 14th Avenue and Yamhill Street were crying as they stared up at the building.
The giant smoke cloud over the building had mostly dissipated by then but the air still smelled acrid as fire hoses continued to spray through windows.
Water streamed down 14th Avenue and swirled into storm drains.
”Everything I love is gone,” said one resident, who watched the fire from behind red police tape and asked not to be named. “You can see the sky through my ceiling.”
The woman said a resident on the floor below her apartment had been pulling the fire alarm almost daily for six months, so many residents probably thought it was another false alarm.
She said she left for work at 6:30 a.m. but got a call just after 10 from a neighbor on the fourth floor who said an apartment “blew up.”
The woman said she had two cats inside her apartment and feared they were both dead.
A complaint filed with the Bureau of Development Services in December said the apartment building lacked smoke, gas and carbon monoxide detectors, had exposed electrical wiring and suffered from “severe leaks” leading to mold and mildew, records show.
Inspectors did not find any missing alarms during a walk-through of the building Dec. 15, case files show, and most of the code violations found that day were found to be fixed during a follow-up inspection Monday.
Another nuisance complaint filed last August objected to overgrown vegetation and trash in the building, records show. That complaint was closed in November.
Multiple streets near the fire were closed as firefighters worked. The Portland Bureau of Transportation said that, due to heavy smoke, Interstate 405 was closed in both directions from the Interstate 5 split before the Marquam Bridge and from U.S. 26 eastbound. It reopened a couple of hours later, although a ramp to I-405 south remained blocked as of Tuesday afternoon. Transportation officials expected it to reopen by Wednesday morning.
PBOT warned that additional street closures may remain in place for hours. Southwest 14th Avenue between Salmon and Yamhill streets is likely to remain closed through Thursday afternoon, said Dylan Rivera, a PBOT spokesperson.
The blaze also disrupted MAX’s Blue and Red lines, because fire engines blocked tracks near Providence Park stadium.
The apartment building is four blocks from Providence Park and two blocks from Lincoln High School, which lost electricity Tuesday morning after the Fire Bureau asked PGE to turn the power off in the neighborhood.
Students at Northwest Academy, a private school for grades 6-12 at Southwest 12th Avenue and Main Street, were sent home around midday because of the heavy smoke.
About 100 firefighters battled the blaze at the apartment building, which had oil furnaces in the basement. Water that flooded the basement caused those oils to spill into the street, and firefighters blocked storm drains to try to prevent the oil from seeping into the city’s sewer system.
Off-duty Portland firefighters were asked to report for duty Tuesday afternoon. Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and Gresham Fire Department also reported to the scene, fire officials said.
Graves, the Portland Fire & Rescue spokesperson, said around 1 p.m. the fire had “maxed out” but likely would burn until tomorrow.
With a strong possibility of its collapse, firefighters and residents were kept at a safe distance from the building Tuesday afternoon, he said, adding:
“We can replace an engine and a truck but we can’t replace a human.”
Reporters Jayati Ramakrishnan, Zane Sparling and Julia Silverman contributed to this report.
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