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Mysterious fire destroys three homes

Unfinished houses in Cascadia Village burned early on July 8
by: Phil Schneider, Three unfinished houses on Cascadia Village Drive burn early Saturday morning. The blaze apparently started in the house on the right, spreading to each house in a matter of minutes.

A fire destroyed three homes in the Cascadia Village subdivision and threatened several more early Saturday morning.

Early estimates from the Sandy Fire District place the total damage of the blaze at up to $750,000, although fire officials believe that number could be much higher, depending on what was inside the houses at the time of the fire.

Sandy firefighters were dispatched to Cascadia Village Drive at Barrington Avenue at 3:24 a.m. Saturday and quickly recruited help from Hoodland Fire District, the Boring Fire District, the Estacada Fire District and the Gresham Fire Department.

Neighbors say that the fire began in a corner of the attic of the house at 38816 Cascadia Village Drive, and quickly spread throughout the structure, due to a lack of drywall and the amount of air inside the house.

'It was unprotected because it was not sheet rocked,' said Sandy Deputy Fire Chief Phil Schneider. 'That's what keeps fire in, so it was wide open. Sheet rock would have made a big difference.'

In less than 10 minutes, flames had jumped to the two houses immediately south of the engulfed house. All three homes, unfinished and uninhabited, were a total loss.

No injuries were reported as a result of the incident.

Sandy Deputy Fire Chief Phil Schneider said firefighters concentrated their efforts to the north of the first house, since those homes - a set of six row houses - were inhabited. They successfully kept the fire from penetrating those homes, although the occupant of the adjacent row house had to leave his home. About 15 people were evacuated.

'It's Penny Avenue revisited,' said fire district spokesperson Alice Lasher, referring to a mysterious Feb. 2 explosion in the Sandy Bluff neighborhood. She said that the lot sizes of the two neighborhoods were similar - with homes spaced about six feet apart from one another. 'You get one structure on fire and there is a big concern about the structures around it.'

Houses across from the triple-house fire showed evidence of heat damage, with vinyl siding buckling and peeling. The blaze caused the window of an unfinished house across the street to fall out of place and onto the driveway below. The heat deformed a 'Schultzy' portable toilet, and an 100-ft. fir tree was singed.

Investigators were at the scene Saturday afternoon trying to determine the cause of the fire.

Neighbors reported that at around 10:30 p.m. they heard illegal fireworks in the general vicinity of the homes. Fire investigators are looking at that as one of many possible causes.

'There were multiple reports of a lot of fireworks booms and shooting off Roman candle-type projectiles right in that area,' Schneider said, noting that he found wrappers for those kinds of fireworks in the vicinity. He said it is too early to attribute any cause to this fire.

'At this point, we're just going to have to do some talking to witnesses and ruling things out,' he said. 'We may not ever determine what happened.' Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the Penny Ave. explosion.

'There's just not a lot left,' Schneider said, noting that the totality of the destruction makes an investigation difficult. 'It was either intentional or there were kids screwing around and something happened.'

Schneider said the state fire marshal's office may offer a reward for information regarding this case.

Phil Herzog, who has lived kiddy-corner from the fire zone for about a year, said his girlfriend woke him up when she heard a crackling noise. 'She thought she heard rain,' he recalled. The couple peeked out the window to see the house at 38816 Cascadia Village Drive fully engulfed in flames.

Herzog says he didn't really have time to think about what he was seeing. 'It was a weird thing,' he said, 'I just reacted. I just thought, 'Get to the phone.' '

After he called 9-1-1, Herzog opened the sliding glass door of his back yard to get a better look at what was going on. He could feel the intense heat - a heat that made his home's vinyl siding buckle and bubble.

'We were fully expecting the worst,' Herzog said. When police evacuated him from his home, he said they told him to 'grab anything important.'

Liz Lundervold awoke in the early morning hours to the sound of shattering glass across the street. She and her husband, Matt, looked out their window to see fire coming out of a corner of the attic of the 38816 Cascadia Village Drive house.

Matt instantly grabbed his camera, and the couple sat on their porch watching the events unfold.

'It was just like a campfire was right out here in the sidewalk,' Matt recalled.

By the time their digital video camera ran out of disk space - less than 10 minutes after they began filming - the fire had jumped from the first house to the third.

The Lundervolds said they never felt that their house was in danger, however the situation was nevertheless horrifying. 'Well, at least no one lives there,' Liz remarked.