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Latest problem at transient-plagued Mt. Scott-Arleta house: <i>Fire!</i>

by: David F. Ashton Fire investigators begin an initial look at the fire scene, where flames injured one man.

Neighbors in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood were concerned, when an early morning fire lit up the sky nearby. The flames crackled from a shed behind a house at 7906 S.E. Harold Street, just south of Foster Road, on Thursday, August 25.

'I work at night and sleep during the day,' explained next door neighbor Jared Hazeem. 'I was trying to get some sleep at about 6 am, when I heard someone yell out to call the fire department.'

Hazeem said he was startled, but not surprised, to see fire in the neighboring home's garage - because it's frequently occupied by transients. 'The shed was completely ablaze. I called 9-1-1; apparently others had reported the fire, too.'

Looking more closely, Hazeem said, he spied a man at the edge of the shed. 'The bum looked like he just rolled out of the shed. Myself and another guy dragged him away from the fire. His hands seemed to have some burns on them.'

Portland Fire and Rescue's (PF and R) Engine 11 crew arrived at 5:56 am to find the garage near the shed also fully involved in flames. Firefighters reported that the fire also lit a nearby tree on fire, with flames leaping as high as 15 feet into the air above the tree.

'While crews were on the way, it was upgraded to a full residential fire assignment,' said PF and R spokesman Tommy Schroeder; firefighters from Truck 25 in Woodstock were also dispatched to the scene.

'Some crewmembers were also assigned to tend to a victim of the fire, who was found in the driveway,' Schroeder continued. 'The 55-year-old man sustained non-life-threatening injuries to his hands, and smoke inhalation. He was transported to a local hospital for treatment.

'Crews knocked down the fire quickly - by 6:15 am,' Schroeder concluded.

But, as fire investigators arrived to examine the scene at 6:30 am, smoke still drifted from the charred structure. Every poke of a crew member's pike exposed more glowing embers. Even though Hazeem's own detached garage - located feet from the burned shed - was saved from destruction, it was singed, and smoldered throughout the day.

By the end of the day, Fire Bureau spokesman Paul Corah told THE BEE, 'Investigators say the cause of the fire was due to 'smoker's carelessness'.'

As Hazeem watched fire investigators block off the driveway of his home and the one for the home to the east, he commented that transients have been a continuing problem at the house.

'There have been bums hanging out there,' Hazeem observed. 'The property owners don't want them there, but they've broken into the house, and keep coming back. If it wasn't for the bums, the fire probably wouldn't have started in the first place. We've called the police before; they've done nothing about it.'

Portland Police East Precinct Sgt. Wendi Steinbronn, who is in charge the Neighborhood Response Team for the area, agreed that there have been calls for service, and transients around the property.

'I've talked with the landscaper who works for James B. Nutter and Company, the property management company,' reported Steinbronn. 'The owner is deceased but, in the past, rented [rooms] to various people.'

Checking police records, Steinbronn said that there were three calls for service in August from Hazeem and from the property caretaker. Looking back further, she found evictions by the sheriff's office in January and March of this year.

If a property owner or manager signs a 'Trespass Enforcement Agreement' with the Bureau, the document authorizes officers to act as the owner's 'agent', allowing them to enforce trespass laws in their absence.

Without one, cops can 'strongly suggest' that transients and squatters vacate premises, but have no authority to arrest them for trespassing without that agreement, Steinbronn pointed out - and in this case apparently there is none.

'It appears as if this property has gone into foreclosure since the death of the resident,' Steinbronn said. 'We've been trying to locate the current bank or owner of the property. We can't 'trespass' a person if there's no one in charge at the property, and we don't have that agreement.'

On February 16, according to public records, a 'Sheriff's Deed' was indeed filed on the property, indicating that the house was foreclosed and would be eventually available for sale. A further search shows the registered owner as the Bellevue, Washington, law firm of Routh Crabtree Olsen - lawyers who specialize in evections and bank repossessed properties.

In the past, several officers have commented that the steady increase in foreclosures and resulting evictions in Southeast Portland have dramatically increased calls to police for service, as transients become squatters in empty homes.

Until this particular property is sold - or until the property owners allow officers to enforce Trespass laws - Hazeem has good reason to believe that the problems will continue next door.