Thunderbird owner reportedly owes $1 million in taxes

Blaze caused $5 million in damage

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

Published:

Updated: September 4, 2012, 8:28 PM

 
photoOfficials say the investigation into the five-alarm fire at the Thunderbird on the River hotel could take at least a week. Specialists with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrived at the hotel Tuesday to assist Portland firefighters and police.

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photoFire Marshal John Harding addresses the media during a press conference about the investigation of the fire at the Thunderbird Hotel, Tuesday

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photoOfficials spent Tuesday making a plan for the investigation of the five-alarm fire. They plan to start going through the scene midday Wednesday, an official said.

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Can you help?

If anyone has photos of the fire or any information on how it started, they should contact Portland Fire & Rescue at 503-823-3700 or FireMarshal@portlandoregon.gov.

Getting to the bottom of what caused the five-alarm fire at the vacant Thunderbird on the River hotel on Sunday will probably take at least a week, officials said Tuesday.

A team of 30 specialists from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined Portland police and firefighters on Tuesday to investigate the cause of the fire. The specialist team includes fire investigators, explosive experts, forensic mappers, electrical engineers, forensic chemists and others who are specifically trained to work fire and explosive scenes.

In a related matter, KGW-TV and The Oregonian reported that the owner of the hotel, Thunderbird Hotel LLC, owes back taxes of $1,123,801.02 to Multnomah County.

Multnomah County officials could not confirm to The Columbian that back taxes are owed, but county records show these were the amounts Thunderbird Hotel LLC owed for the past four years:

2008: $296,170.20.

2009: $299,553.21

2010: $299,023.01.

2011: $297,857.01.

Thunderbird Hotel LLC is in care of Howard N. Dietrich Jr. of Portland, according to county records. Calls to Dietrich were not returned on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

As for the investigation, the team of specialists typically responds to large fires, said Chris Porreca, supervisor of the specialist team.

“It’s something very large, something very significant to the community,” he said.

Investigators first arrived at the hotel Tuesday morning and spent the day making sure the scene is safe to enter and devising a plan of attack. They expected to start going through the structure midday Wednesday, Porreca said. Then they will be able to start piecing together what caused the fire — if it was accidental, an act of nature or intentionally set. He said the investigation will probably take at least a week, adding that some of his team’s investigations have literally taken years.

The fire sparked Sunday morning before 3 a.m. at the hotel at 1401 N. Hayden Island Drive. When firefighters arrived on scene, there were heavy flames coming from the roof of the building, said Portland Fire Marshal John Harding. A fifth alarm was called at 4:23 a.m.

“This is the first five-alarm fire we’ve had since 2002,” Harding said, referring to the University of Portland bluff fire. It also was the first five-alarm structure fire since 1999, officials said.

Firefighters took a defensive attack, meaning they tried to contain the fire to the damaged area of the building, he said.

Investigators are unsure how long the fire was burning before it was reported. The building was being used to store mattresses and furniture, which may have contributed to how fast the fire spread, Harding said. Investigators also will work to determine if the building’s sprinkler system was working at the time of the fire, said Michael Silva, Portland Fire & Rescue spokesman.

Firefighters estimate damage to the hotel may be $5 million, which was based on damage to 85 percent of the six-building hotel, Silva said. That preliminary estimate could increase, Silva said.

On Tuesday afternoon, the fire was still smoldering. An aerial truck and one engine have been on scene 24 hours a day since the fire started, Silva said.

“There’s just so much still smoldering and probably will be for days,” he said.

Silva said he will get daily updates from investigators and send out media releases to update the public.