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Trick, treat or fire

Fire puts a damper on Halloween fun for one Oregon City family
by: patrick sherman, Firefighters pursue a smoldering blaze hidden inside the walls of an Oregon City home.

Fire played a nasty trick on one Oregon City family in the days leading up to Halloween, derailing a sweet treat planned for the children and their friends. At approximately 2:45 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 27, emergency dispatchers received word of a residential fire at the intersection of 16th and Jefferson.

Crews from Clackamas County Fire District #1, the Gladstone Fire Department and Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue responded to the scene, where resident Jamie Zivney had already taken up a garden hose.

'I was downstairs, and I noticed this orange glow coming from a ceiling beam - like it was on fire,' said Zivney. 'There was no smoke, no flames - nothing.'

Zivney noticed the embers glowing inside the wall of his house just as he was opening the door for his ex-wife and five children who showed up early to help set up for a Halloween party that evening.

'I yelled for them to bring me the hose and call 9-1-1,' said Zivney, who used the hose to douse the smoldering fire.

Arriving at the residence, fire crews took over from Zivney.

'The homeowner put quite a bit of water in there and knocked it down pretty good,' said Battalion Chief David Scheirman, at the scene. 'We actually used his garden hose to finish it off.'

According to Scheirman, the fire was most likely the result of a process known as pyrolysis - a slow-moving chemical reaction akin to fire.

'It's just like a piece of metal rusting, except that it deals with the breakdown of wood,' he said. 'We see this with a chimney that has been improperly installed, or if it has a hole in it. The wood slowly turns into carbon - charcoal, essentially - which can spontaneously ignite, or it can be ignited by the heat from the fireplace. It has a lower ignition temperature than normal wood.'

Zivney said he would likely not have been at home, were it not for the party he was planning, which proved to be a fortunate coincidence, according to Scheirman.

'An undiscovered fire would have had the chance to burn until it grew larger,' he said. 'Also, it could have led to a buildup of carbon monoxide inside the home. You know how we're always telling you not to barbeque inside your home? This is the same thing.'

While firefighters inside the home verified that the embers were extinguished and worked to determine the cause of the ignition, Zivney and the children waited outside, surrounded by thin metal pipes and a pile of FedEx boxes, rounded off and painted gray, to resemble tombstones.

'I was going to hang black visqueen off this conduit to make a maze for the kids, you know, with spooky lights and scary music,' said Zivney. 'We were going to make our own haunted house for the party.'

Concerned that the slow-burning fire damaged the structural integrity of the home, Scheirman called for the district's new heavy rescue vehicle to shore it up.

'The best definition of it is that it's a toolbox on wheels,' he said. 'It adds another dimension to our rescue capabilities, in situations like structural collapse and automobile wrecks. I've actually been calling it out a lot, lately. It's proving to be very useful for us.'