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Fatal fire: Neighbor tried to do what he could

Firefighters discover remains of Donald Krebs, 87, inside burned-out home


by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: CARI HACHMANN - An accidental fire blackened the back third of a home located in the outskirts of Troutdale.A man was driving home with his wife and two kids Thursday evening, May 16, when he saw smoke in the sky.

Turning the corner on Southeast Kerslake Road to the 3800 block of 302nd Avenue where he lived in the rural outskirts of Troutdale, he thought it might be somebody’s burn pile.

But when he drove up the road, he saw the smoke and flames engulfing the back of his neighbor’s house, a modest wooden cottage at the end of a long driveway, across the street from his home.

His wife called 9-1-1 as he jumped out of the car and ran up to search for the elderly man who lived inside.

The back porch and back door were on fire and impassable, so he broke out a side window and yelled his neighbor’s name. No response.

He ran to the front of the house and kicked down the door.

The smoke was thick and down to his ankles.

He yelled again, but saw and heard no sign of the 87-year-old man he hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks, who mostly kept to himself.

Firefighters got the call at 8:06 p.m.

When they arrived, they too tried to enter the house to search for the man still inside, but Gresham Fire Chief Scott Lewis said crews were forced back out because of heavy smoke and intense heat.

Firefighters used hoses to knock down the bulk of the fire enough for crews to re-enter.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: GREG MUHR - Firefighters fight back the flames at a residetial fire that claimed the life of Troutdale resident Donald Krebs, 87. There were no fire hydrants near Donald Krebs’ home. Two water tenders from the Boring Fire District and one water tender from the Sandy Fire District responded, as did four engines and one ladder truck from Gresham Fire & Emergency Services.

Twelve feet from the front door inside the living room, firefighters found Krebs.

He was unconscious and not breathing.

Paramedics moved the man to the front yard, where they tried to resuscitate him for more than 30 minutes and were unsuccessful.

After he lost his wife, Krebs lived alone. His family was at the scene, including his son, Steve Krebs.

A medical examiner has not released the cause of death.

Investigators have ruled the cause of the fire accidental, and the exact origin is undetermined because of the extent of damage caused by the fire.

“We don’t know the actions the occupant took inside the home,” Lewis said. Often, in a case where the occupant didn’t survive, he said, “We don’t have that exact information available to us.”

Fire officials do not believe there were working smoke detectors.

The total structural damage was estimated at a value of $75,000 and the loss to the contents is estimated at $25,000, according to a report released by the Gresham’s fire department.

No firefighters were injured.

Firefighters left the scene at 11:30 p.m.

The neighbor who rushed to save Krebs — who would rather be unnamed — said he wishes he could have done more.

He had known the elderly man for nearly four years. He normally saw Krebs when he was out getting the mail at the end of the driveway across the street from his house.

“If I could have been there 5 minutes earlier,” he said, “I could have done something.”

Before hearing the sirens of fire engines blaring down the street, he aimed water from a garden hose at the flames.

“When something like that happens it seems like forever,” he said.

“But when there’s that much smoke,” he said, “they (firefighters) say all it takes are a couple of deep breaths of that hot thick smoke to put you out.”



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Gresham

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Humidity: 78%

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