PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A 4-alarm fire broke out at a Southwest Portland apartment building late Tuesday morning that officials say could cause the building to collapse.
Two firefighters were injured during the incident. One continued to work and the other was taken to the hospital after experiencing high blood pressure. As fire crews continue to subdue the fire, officials say the I-405 has re-opened, but all exits near the incident will remain closed.
Portland Fire and Rescue tweeted at 10:43 a.m. that crews were at the scene of the blaze on Southwest 14th Avenue and Southwest Taylor Street. When firefighters arrived, there was heavy fire coming from the third floor and extending to the fourth floor.
“Fire blew out the windows,” said Rick Graves with PF&R, adding he was “not certain if that was as a result of any ‘backdraft,’ but there were reports that fire aggressively broke out windows on the fourth floor. Rescues have been affected on three sides of this structure as well as the main stairwell.”
The blaze was initially called a 3-alarm but was upgraded to a 4-alarm shortly after 11:30 a.m.
Firefighters helped evacuate people from inside the building. Photos of the scene show firefighters helping people and a dog down the fire truck’s ladder from an upper level of the building.
“Unless there was someone we are unaware of in the basement, we feel very strongly that we have everyone out of the structure,” Graves said in a press conference around 3:30 p.m.
As the fire continued to race through the building, Portland General Electric cut power to the area and anticipates the outage to last for several hours. Officials have drawn a large diameter around the building to help protect neighbors.
PF&R pulled back crews just before 11 a.m., with Graves telling KOIN 6 that firefighters were going to “strategically” search floors and deploy further fire suppression. About 40 minutes after this, PF&R said emergency response vehicles were being “moved away from [the] side of the building in the event of a structural collapse.”
Fire officials said they are confident the fire started in a room on the third floor.
Byran Wonderly, an evacuated resident from the nearby building, said he was alerted by the apartment manager.
“The manager was running down the hall, banging on the door, ‘The building next door is on fire, get out,’” he said. “And we all got out and we saw that the building was on fire”
Just after noon, Graves told KOIN 6 crews turned their efforts toward a defensive approach due to increased fire activity and to limit any further growth of the fire and save a neighboring building to the south. The southern building has since been saved and “will remain standing,” according to PF&R.
“We had explosions that were busting glass out on one side of the structure, we had heavy smoke pushing out of the top, heavy dark smoke,” said Graves. “You can see now we have a little bit of change in the smoke color, so that indicates that the water is actually getting to the seed of the fire and cooling the flames rather than that dark smoke. I mean these are all indicators that we utilize in determining what tactics we’re going to move forward with.”
The building was not modernized with interior fire suppression and lacked a sprinkler system, according to PF&R.
Prior to the fire being upgraded to a 4-alarm, Graves said crews were “going to do [their] best to not have it be a total loss. But at the same time, with the unreinforced base and rebuilding with heavy fire and structural damage, we’re quite concerned with the safety of our crews as well. So, we’re going to go in there and affect rescue, pull out all human life if there are any in there and then strategically address the fire.”
Oil from a heating tank in the basement rose with the amount of water flooding the building, leading the oil to begin spilling into the street. However, PF&R says they are containing the spill and working to prevent oil from getting into storm drains.
Portland police say they’ve responded to the complex 14 times and Portland fire crews have responded 28 times – all in just the last year.
Investigators are working to determine what sparked the blaze. Firefighters say they’re going to be watching this for at least 24 hours and expect to work the building through noon on Wednesday. The scene is under active investigation.
Public Safety Commissioner Rene Gonzalez said in a statement: “Today the City of Portland expresses deep gratitude for the selfless efforts of our brave firefighters and other first responders who answered the call for a devastating 4th alarm fire in the heart of Goose Hollow. The collaborate efforts from all public safety bureaus and mutual aid partners highlights the common values that we as Portlanders share. We extend our deepest sympathies to those who experienced loss and hardship on this day.”
There are four verified GoFundMe fundraisers that aim to help those who have been displaced by this fire:
- “Queer Displaced by Apartment Fire”
- “Emergency Funds for Jay”
- “Help Nicholas Rebuild After Tragic Fire”
- “Residents & Victims of The May Fire”
Stay with KOIN 6 News as this story develops.