PORTLAND — Firefighters rescued over a dozen people and three dogs from a dramatic apartment building fire Tuesday in downtown Portland.
Portland Fire & Rescue tweeted about 10:45 a.m. that they had responded to the blaze and shortly after said rescues were underway. Fire officials said before noon that firefighters had been for a time told to pull back because of the fire’s growth. Crews then did one of several checks to make sure all the firefighters were accounted for, officials said.
Rick Graves told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the department was confident everyone got out of the building, which had about 50 units and was built in 1910. A few cats may have perished, he said.
Photos and video posted by the fire agency showed black smoke pouring out of the four-story building and firefighters helping residents and even a dog down ladders to safety.
Several times, windows exploded as the fire ripped through the structure. Authorities were concerned the building might collapse or the flames might spread to another structure just feet away, Graves said. Huge plumes of thick smoke were visible from most areas of the city.
Graves said they moved fire trucks to areas that would be safe should the building collapse. One firefighter was hit in the forehead with glass while standing across the street. The injury was minor, and the firefighter returned to fighting the blaze, Graves said.
Portland General Electric also cut power to the area at the fire bureau’s request.
The fire in the city’s core also posed dangers for drivers. Transportation officials closed Interstate 405 for about two hours, and surface streets were closed in the immediate area because of low visibility from heavy smoke.
John Rosenthal lives several blocks from the building. “It’s just nonstop hoses going in there,” he said of firefighters flooding the building with water.
From Blake Stroud’s apartment about a half mile away, he could see a smoke plume “oscillating between white and dark smoke,” he said.
“At the bottom of the plume you could see the flames,” he said.
The cause of the blaze wasn’t immediately known, but it appears to have started on the third floor and jumped to the fourth, Graves said.
Around 1 p.m., Graves said the fire had “maxed out” but likely would burn until Wednesday.
It’s unlikely residents will be allowed back inside, he said.
A complaint filed with the Bureau of Development Services late last year said the apartment building didn’t have smoke, gas and carbon-monoxide detectors, had exposed electrical wiring and had “severe leaks” leading to mold and mildew, records show.
Ken Ray, a spokesperson for the fire department, confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive the existence of the complaint and said inspectors had been investigating the issues before the fire Tuesday.