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Space heaters trigger Lake Oswego house fire

by: COURTESY OF LAKE OSWEGO FIRE DEPARTMENT, Fire crews fight a Wednesday morning blaze on Childs Road in Lake Oswego.

A light in the bathroom went out.

But this power outage wasn't a result of the ice and snow storm this week.

With four space heaters in use, investigators said an electrical circuit in the attic was overloaded at 6371 S.W. Childs Road in Lake Oswego, causing a house fire at 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

The occupants - Sandy Schroeter, Janet Alexander, three out-of-town visitors and a dog - evacuated the home after Schroeter's effort to use a fire extinguisher was unsuccessful at dousing flames in the attic.

Within minutes, firefighters from Lake Oswego and Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue arrived and found flames coming through the roof. They had the fire under control within 30 minutes.

Gert Zoutendijk, deputy fire marshal with the Lake Oswego Fire Department, said the attic sustained the most fire damage, but there also was water damage throughout the older home.

'We sprayed water up into the attic so that's eventually going to come through the ceiling,' he said. 'And we had to pull sheetrock from the ceiling to make sure there was no fire.'

Wiring throughout the entire home is most likely destroyed, he said, since there was one electrical circuit for the entire dwelling.

'That circuit was really over-loaded because there was so much power being pulled,' Zoutendijk said. 'The wires heated up and became red-hot and started the insulation from the wiring on fire, which caught the wood and studs and parts of the attic on fire.'

Zoutendijk said that homeowners shouldn't assume that their circuit breaker would trip if there is a large spike in power.

'Not with space heaters. They slowly heat up and slowly start pulling more power,' he said. 'It's just drawing so much electricity and the wiring isn't designed for that type of use. One circuit, maybe, is designed for one space heater.'

After arrival, firefighters initially had a problem with one fire hydrant that was not working. It is unsure if the hydrant was turned off, or if it was frozen, Zoutendijk said. Another hydrant nearby was used quickly to establish a good water supply.

'This wasn't a delay. We never ran out of water,' Zoutendijk said. 'We just had to change our plan.'

Damages to the house and contents are estimated at $60,000. The family suffered no injuries and is being assisted by the American Red Cross; they do not have insurance.