PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For years, the Portland Korean Church was deemed unsafe because of previous fires, meaning firefighters and investigators couldn’t go inside. In most cases, investigators would’ve been able to go into the burned church wreckage before its demolition and inspect every bit of debris up close, but because it wasn’t safe to go inside, they had to rely on the power of technology.

When the church caught fire again on Tuesday night and started to spread to a nearby home, firefighters had to attack it entirely from the outside as the fire continued to rage inside.

“Any time they do that, for my particular job, it makes it a very complex investigation to go moving forward because as the fire spreads, my evidence is starting to be altered with or destroyed or further collapsed,” said Jason Andersen, a senior investigator with Portland Fire and Rescue’s Fire Investigations Unit. 

With assistance by Scappoose Fire, PFR used a drone — or unmanned aerial vehicle, per PFR — to go inside and not only explore areas of specific interest like where they believe the fire started, but overall document the entire scene and produce 3D images for them to comb through. It’s a new method for the fire investigations unit.

“This is the first time we’ve used this UAV technology to do what we do what we did but with the capabilities it has, it has definitely allowed us to conduct a scene examination and document it in a way that we would have otherwise8 not been able to do,” said Andersen. 

Still, Andersen said there was a learning curve to this technology, comparing it to a surgeon used to performing on live patients, but instead being asked to do that job via robot from another room. 

According to court records, the 27-year-old suspect, Cameron Storer who also goes by the name Nicolette, came directly to the Multnomah County Detention Center on Wednesday and claimed responsibility for setting the church on fire. They’re now charged with multiple counts of arson and burglary. Investigators said a confession speeds along the process some, but they still have to put together a full case and make sure that confession matches what the physical evidence shows.

“Again, it’s one piece of the puzzle but if we can’t corroborate the information that’s being provided then we really don’t have a case,” said Andersen. 

KOIN 6 asked Andersen what would’ve happened had Storer not come forward.

“I think we would’ve still been able to do what we have done thus far which is conducting our scene investigation,” said Andersen. “I think eventually, we would’ve been able to get there but it’s obviously much quicker when they come to you.”

Andersen went on to said just how slammed the investigative unit was the night the fire broke out. They had multiple arson cases happening at the same time around the city and ended up calling in all off-duty staff to handle each call.