December 23, 2020 14:40
At 2:22 AM on December 23, dispatchers at the Bureau of Emergency Communications (BOEC) received several phone calls indicating there was an apartment fire at 16124 SE Alder St. When Portland Fire & Rescue and Gresham Fire units arrived, they found heavy smoke coming from the a two-story apartment complex and people frantically trying to escape the building.
Engine crews focused on establishing a source of water at a nearby hydrant and while two-person crews with hose lines sought to locate and extinguish the fire. Ladder truck crews had their hands full, first with getting ladders to balconies after witnessing residents jumping. Truck crews then split duties between searching for additional occupants inside the complex and going to the roof to cut important heat and smoke ventilation holes.
It is believed that in total four people jumped from their apartment balconies to escape the rapidly increasing smoke conditions. One adult was able to gather two children, one cat and a dog before they all jumped from the second story balcony, according to their own account. Surprisingly, no injuries were reported although several occupants required the shelter of a bus provided by local partner Tri-Met to keep them out of the cold weather.
Fire investigators began their investigation shortly after the fire was out and concluded that most of the damage had been isolated to one apartment. Closed (versus open) exterior doors slowed the fire’s progress to other units. Investigators determined that the primary occupant of the apartment was a person of interest, but they were not found at the scene of the fire.
After compiling information from the scene and testimony from witnesses, investigators determined the fire to be arson. Gary Lee Hickey, 40, was located and arrested by Portland Police Officers and was booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center with the charge of arson in the first degree. The Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office will make a determination on charges before the scheduled arraignment tomorrow.