Early Wednesday morning, Portland Fire & Rescue Engine 24 was dispatched to a reported tent fire at the on-ramp to I-405 near the intersection of N Cook St. and N Gantenbein. The fire was mostly out when they arrived, but one person was badly burned.
The burned patient was sleeping in the tent with another adult when the fire broke out. The PF&R paramedic on-scene estimated that the patient suffered life threatening, third degree burns across approximately 75% of their body. After initial treatment at the scene, the patient was transported to Emanuel Burn Center by an AMR ambulance where the person later died.
The Portland Fire Investigations Unit was sent to the scene and determined that the two adults were using a candle for light and heat inside their tent. At some point, the candle was knocked over and started a fire that quickly consumed the lightweight materials of the tent and contents inside. One adult escaped quickly while the other was most likely rendered unconscious from smoke inhalation and was unable to escape. Fire investigators estimate that they are receiving reports of 2-3 tent fires a day in recent weeks.*
“Tragedies like this sadden all of us at Portland Fire & Rescue,” says Fire Chief Sara Boone. “It is heartbreaking to see residents of our city living in these conditions and using unsafe means to keep themselves warm and meet their basic needs. We will continue to work with our partners at the city, county and local non-profit organizations to identify alternative methods of shelter, especially in these cold months.”
Portland City Commissioner in charge of PF&R, Jo Ann Hardesty, had the following to say regarding the incident: “My heart breaks for this tragic loss as the streets of Portland claim another life from our houseless community. With colder and wetter days ahead this winter, we all must commit to do better, act compassionately, and ensure Portland is a city where our houseless neighbors have access to warmth, hygiene, shelter, and other basic life necessities. I send my deepest condolences to the family and friends suffering from this loss.”