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Regional Interests

Two killed in fire that destroyed Portland apartment buildings

Firefighters stand in front of a burned-out apartment complex on Northeast Weidler Street in Portland on Sunday, July 4.
Firefighters stand in front of a burned-out apartment complex on Northeast Weidler Street in Portland on Sunday, July 4.

Two people have died and four are injured after an early morning fire at an apartment complex in the Sullivan’s Gulch neighborhood of Northeast Portland, according to investigators with Portland Fire and Rescue.

Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who oversees the fire bureau, toured the site briefly on Sunday, thanked first responders, and offered their condolences to the victims and their families.

“I think today we just have to acknowledge the loss of life and how sad that is for the family members, the friends, and the community,” Hardesty said. “I know Portland Fire and Rescue did all they could to save lives.”

The fire at the Heidi Manor Apartments was first reported at 3:29 am Sunday. Firefighters arrived on the scene at 3:36.

The building did not have sprinklers, and by the time firefighters arrived, the fire had spread rapidly, turning the wood framed complex into a death trap. After the stairwells caught fire, some residents were forced to walk through flames and jump from windows on the second and third floors to try to escape.

“People didn’t have much of a chance. The way this building is constructed, it had few exits. That’s not something you’re going to see in newer construction,” said fire chief Sarah Boone.

PF&R Lt. Craig Gault told reporters Sunday morning that a body was found inside one of the three buildings that burned; the other fatality was a person who died from their injuries while getting medical attention.

The fire bureau said all residents of the complex are now accounted for and they do not anticipate further injuries or fatalities. Officials didn’t comment on the condition of people being treated at the hospital.

Witnesses have told fire investigators they heard fireworks going off before the fire started. Investigators say the cause of the fire is still under investigation. Chief Boone said she would not speculate on the cause but said, “This tragedy was preventable.”

She urged the public to abide by the city’s ban on fireworks this July 4th, given the dry conditions and potential for rapid fire spread.

“Every single one of those fireworks is a spark and an ignition source that the public has the choice not to use,” Boone said.

City officials have urged people not to call 911 to report people setting of illegal fireworks; Boone defended that policy, saying too many calls could tie up 911 dispatchers and slow their response time to emergencies.

Kevin Walsh lives in an apartment nearby, and woke up when he heard sirens. He said the scene was shocking.

“There were flames and they were shooting up at least 20 feet in the air,” he said. “I saw the fire department working on a guy and giving him CPR.”

Walsh said other neighbors described hearing popping — like gunshots or fireworks — before the fire started.

‘I don’t know what started this, but every year there were a ton of fireworks that happened around that structure,” he said. “I don’t know if it was fireworks. I don’t know what caused it, but people have to be careful, and they shouldn’t be using them.”

Investigators are asking for any information from the public that might help them learn more about what happened. If anyone saw anything suspicious, has photos or video of the fire, or any other relevant information, fire officials are asking them to call 503-823-INFO or email Detective Meredith Hopper at Meredith.Hopper@portlandoregon.gov.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting