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Portland fire was intentionally set, investigators say

The fire Monday created a plume of black smoke that was visible throughout much of the city during rush hour.

Posted: Aug 27, 2019 1:02 PM
Updated: Aug 27, 2019 3:21 PM

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Investigators believe a 4-alarm grass fire that took off in a Northeast Portland neighborhood Monday evening, destroying two buildings and burning several others was intentionally set.

The fire began around 5:20 p.m. in an abandoned driving range, near Northeast 85th Avenue and Siskiyou Street, and wind helped the fire spread quickly to the south. The old driving range hadn't been used in years and was overrun with blackberry bushes.

Although investigators believe the fire was intentionally, they didn't release any additional specific information. Investigators are asking for the public's help with information about what was happening at the old driving range leading up to the fire. Anyone with information or video is asked to contact Crime Stoppers of Oregon.

A townhome and another building were destroyed, according to Lt. Rich Chatman of Portland Fire & Rescue. Four other townhomes and Lumberyard Bike Park were also damaged after the fire spread quickly from the brush.

"A lot of dry brush out there," Chatman said. "The moisture content in the brush is low, and that's where things are at the highest risk — burns quickly and easily. And the wind is the icing on the cake."

Grand Avenue Boxing Club owner Waldo Rojas told KGW he believed his gym had burned. Lumberyard Bike Park co-founder Michael Whitesel reported smoke and water damage Monday night.

On Tuesday morning, KGW's Tim Gordon reported that the gym and bike park suffered some smoke and water damage, but both were still intact.

Traffic was stopped on Northeast 82nd Avenue while crews fought the flames Monday. By Tuesday morning, all lanes were reopened except for the right, northbound lane between Brazee and Siskiyou streets.

Neighbors reported hearing explosions during the fire, and Lt. Rich Chatman of Portland Fire & Rescue said the sounds could have been a number of things. Approximately 50 cars in a lot were caught in the blaze and Chatman said the explosions could have been tires.

Portland Fire and Rescue called in crews from neighboring departments and even the airport. About 120 firefighters, just over 40 units, responded to the fire on Monday.

Officials originally requested that anyone inside their homes within a 10-12 block radius of the fire close their windows and doors for the evening, as they were concerned about the air quality. That was narrowed Tuesday morning to the immediate area around the fire.

Thankfully, no injuries have been reported.

More than 12,000 people went without power at some point Monday night due to the firefighting effort, though power was restored by midnight, according to the Pacific Power outage map.

The American Red Cross set up a disaster resource center at Mannahouse Church at 9200 Northeast Fremont Street for anyone who cannot stay in their homes due to fire damage.

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