August 14, 2023 21:30
Just after 5:00pm on August 14, 2023 Portland Fire crews were dispatched to a house on fire in the King neighborhood. Multiple callers reported heavy fire in the back of a large house, possibly spreading to other nearby structures. En route, crews had limited information on the status of any occupants, and strategically positioned to prepare for the need for multiple fire hydrant water supplies in the event there were multiple houses on fire simultaneously. First arriving crews noted a large column of smoke and embers, referred to as a “header”. With the current extreme wind, temperature and humidity conditions, this increases the risk and speed of fire spread and can cause secondary fires far from the initial location.
On arrival, the first in crew identified a large residential structure with four separate units that had heavy fire and smoke conditions in multiple areas of the building. The command officer in charge of the fire quickly ordered a second alarm, summoning more units to assist with what was proving to be a complicated, large fire. PF&R's primary mission is the protection of life, and truck crew members performed a rapid search of the building for any victims while engine crew members focused on stretching hose to extinguish the fire.
In the process of searching, crews located a dog and a cat, both with significant smoke exposure. Both were quickly removed and treated by firefighters with oxygen and special “pet masks” designed for this purpose. (The treatment of the cat and the specialized mask are picture in attached photos.). Both animals responded well to this treatment and were released from our care on scene.
The second arriving Battalion Chief was tasked with checking the block behind the main fire for any potential rescues or fire spread to the west. The BC coordinated search of houses on that block, and the extinguishment of spot fires in nearby yards, caused by the embers that traveled in the dry wind. Those spot fires were efficiently put out, and all buildings in the “Charlie Division” of the fire were also cleared with no further victims found. Fire from the main structure also spread to landscaping, fencing and a detached garage on the property next door. That fire, too, was extinguished rapidly by early arriving crews.
It was later revealed that occupants of one of the lower units were inside when the fire first erupted. They reported the sound of a smoke alarm activation, followed by the smell of smoke and “popping” noises coming from the rear of the building. They exited the building as as group and waited a safe distance away from the building for fire crews to arrive. Though a significant loss of property, this fire shows some significant life safety successes. PF&R would like to highlight the presence of properly functioning smoke alarms, and positive actions of the occupants that promptly evacuated to a safe location when the alarm sounded.
This fire also presented significant challenges to crew safety related to the weather. At the time of the fire, temps were still over 100F, exacerbating intense fire conditions and spread while hastening fatigue in firefighters. The second alarm response included a “Rehab Unit” that is tasked with firefighter recovery and safety. Crews were mindful not to become hyperthermic, and to stay hydrated. Firefighters remained on scene for many hours to monitor conditions and search for any remaining hot spots, a process referred to as “overhaul”.
The fire resulted in one minor injury to a firefighter, who was treated on scene and will receive any needed follow up care.
A total of nine engines, five trucks, one rehab unit, on squad, five Chief officers and two Fire Investigators responded to this large fire, bringing the total number of PF&R responders to 72. We were also assisted by a standby ambulance crew from AMR, as well as Portland Police for traffic control. Red Cross was contacted to assist with any immediate housing needs for residents.
Finally, PF&R would like to take this opportunity to remind the community to check their smoke detectors, and to be mindful of the burn ban currently in place. Please refrain from any activity involving an open flame, and be sure to properly dispose of all smoking materials and BBQ ash in a metal container far from any structure or fuels. The current weather conditions can quickly intensify fire behavior, and prevention is our strongest defense.