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Afternoon fire destroys S.E. Portland home

by: Dick Harris, Attacking the fire from the roof and on the ground, it took firefighters an hour to control the blaze.

Shortly after putting the kids to bed for an afternoon nap about 2:12 pm on April 14, their parents heard commotion at the house next door to them, in the 4400 block of S.E. Center Street.

They looked out the window to see a battalion of Portland Fire and Rescue trucks and firefighters swarming in to fight a fire in a nearby house - a blaze that went from small to raging in mere minutes.

'Our first concern is saving lives,' Lt. Allen Oswalt told us later; he is spokesman for the Fire Bureau. 'As they started dousing the house with water, firefighters made a forced entry, and began searching for victims.'

Even just approaching the exterior of the one-story house, which was by then 'heavily involved in fire', wasn't easy - it was surrounded by thick brush, and a fence.

And, when firefighters got inside, Oswalt said, things got even more difficult. 'It was like a maze in there, because there were waist-deep piles of magazines, newspapers, and old appliances. With so much stuff stacked in there, firefighters had a difficulty opening doors to search the rooms for potential victims.'

Before any firefighters were injured during the search-and-rescue operation, the house's resident arrived, and confirmed the house was vacant.

'When we knew there wasn't anybody trapped inside, the firefighters got out and kept attacking the fire from outside,' explained Oswalt. 'The tremendous 'fuel load' provided by the dwelling's contents kept feeding the fire.'

Although their youngsters slept through the event, those neighbors said they were pleased at how quickly the firefighters arrived. 'But even though they kept spraying it with lots of water, it kept burning and smoking for a couple of hours.'

It took the combined efforts of 60 firefighters about an hour to knock down the fire. Some firefighters stayed on-scene to make sure the smoldering ruins didn't again erupt into flames.

'Due to the extent of the fire, and the amount of combustible material in the structure, investigators haven't pinpointed its exact cause,' Oswalt said.