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Fire in St. Helens home causes 'heavy damage'

by: COLUMBIA RIVER FIRE & RESCUE - Scappoose Rural Fire District Division Chief Chris Lake said the fire caused significant damage to the home's garage, living room and kitchen as well as smoke and heat damage to the rest of the house.  Fire crews from Columbia River Fire & Rescue and Scappoose Rural Fire District responded to a report of a fire at 35254 Hazel St. in St. Helens at 2:54 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29.

Crews arrived to find heavy flames coming from a single-story home. CRFR Chief Jay Tappan was reluctant to call the extent of the damage a total loss, but added that the home was “very heavily damaged.”

Fire crews were able to confine the fire to the home's garage, where Tappan believes the fire started. “It was an older-type of construction,” he said, explaining how the fire spread. “There was no firewall between the garage and the rest of the house.”

Tappan described the fire as “hard-to-extinguish” in a press release and said it took nearly an hour to declare the incident “under control.” Crews remained at the scene for an additional three hours to ensure all hot spots were extinguished, Tappan added.

Patricia Oberndorf, the owner and sole occupant of the home, said in a press release she was awakened by the sound of her smoke alarms and quickly evacuated. Oberndorf reported she observed a fire in her garage prior to leaving her home and promptly called 911. She was also able to save her two dogs.

Tappan said in the release the incident was a “close call” for Oberndorf and gave credit to her alarm system and her quick actions for preventing a potential tragedy. The American Red Cross was contacted to help with emergency assistance for the owner.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation. “We don't even have a good suspicion as to the cause at this point,” Tappan said. “A vehicle was in the garage, but hadn't been driven in a few days. There were heating components and electrical panels [in the garage], there are some suspected areas, but nothing obvious.”

Damage is estimated to be about $150,000 for the home and another $75,000 for the contents, according to the release.

CRF&R and SRFD responded to the incident with four fire engines, a medical unit, and several support vehicles. A total of 24 fire personnel were on scene with no reported injuries.

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