Early Morning 3rd Alarm Fire Determined To Be Arson

Portland Fire and Rescue
Portland Fire and Rescue

April 19, 2021 21:05


PF&R investigators have evidence that an act of arson was responsible for an early morning fire at a building that houses an iconic Portland business.

Just after 3:30am, 911 dispatchers at the Bureau of Emergency Communications began receiving phone calls that a tree was on fire and spreading to an adjacent commercial building, the Portland Garment Factory at 408 SE 79th Ave. When crews arrived, they found heavy fire and smoke coming from the second floor of the two-story building. Firefighters attempted to extinguish the fire by using multiple large hose lines inside the structure but were forced to withdraw to an exterior strategy. Incident Commanders (IC) directed this change in strategy due to the amount of fire that had burned through on the exterior front wall, and its effect on the structural components of the building. This fire weakened the structural components to a point that they posed a serious threat to firefighters inside.

Firefighters were ordered out of the building, and only 22 minutes into the firefight, crews began to radio to the IC that they could see “bulging” in areas of the exterior walls near the roofline.  Crews were directed to confirm over the radio that they had accountability of their members and minutes later large sections of the roof collapsed.

12 occupants of an apartment building next door were evacuated by firefighters as smoke and heat began threatening their apartments and other buildings nearby. Red Cross volunteers were requested to assist with the apartment residents who were then directed to a Tri-Met bus that had been provided as a warm area for them to re-coup..

This fire was upgraded to a level of 3rd alarm due to the size of the fire, potential for structural collapse, evacuation of an adjacent apartment and businesses, potential fire spread to nearby buildings, and rotation of crews. This meant 25 fire engines, ladder trucks, command SUV’s and support equipment and nearly 100 firefighters in total.

Over 20 of the 31 fire stations in the city were emptied while battling this commercial fire, evacuating residents in the immediate hazard zone and protecting adjacent property. This left PF&R staffing specialists scrambling to callback firefighters from home and request help from neighboring fire departments to staff those empty stations for critical medical and fire calls that continued to occur.

Fire investigators were also called to the scene to determine how this fire started. After reviewing witness testimony and physical evidence at the scene they determined the fire to be arson. A security camera captured a suspect starting the fire in a nearby dumpster that spread up an exterior wall and into the building. 



Fire Chief Sara Boone had the following to say regarding the early morning fire.. “This fire started in a dumpster, yet the harm spread to a close-knit community. This is a traumatic and devastating loss for the business owner, the property owner, and the team of employees who embraced the innovation and creative niche of the Portland Garment Factory, and the community itself.  I’d like to acknowledge the great work of the firefighters on scene and the Incident Commander in calling additional resources early to prevent fire spread to nearby restaurants, businesses, and occupancies. I would also like to genuinely thank our hard working partners at PBEM, 911 dispatchers at BOEC, officers at PPB, our mutual aid fire departments, Tri-Met and the Red Cross.”

PF&R investigators would like help in identifying the subject seen in the video. If you or someone you know has any information about this person or any other information that would be helpful to investigators, they would like you to call 503-823-INFO (4636).