Massive Fire Destroys Former K-Mart Warehouse

Photo: Ford, Brad

Portland Fire & Rescue responded to a 4-alarm fire in the Argay Terrace Neighborhood of Portland at 6:30 AM. A second alarm response was requested immediately with significant smoke and flames from of former K-Mart located near the intersection of NE 122nd and Sandy Blvd. Eventually, a fourth alarm was requested with concerns of fire spreading into the neighborhood from active embers floating away from the structure. The fire did not extend or cause any spot fires and there were no reported injuries.

With the location of this structure across the street from our training yard, the second alarm was requested before many rigs on the first alarm had yet to even leave their home stations. This placed the first arriving chief, who drove across the street with the engine and truck, on scene planning the tactics of the remaining nine emergency vehicles with an additional 36 additional firefighters. The plan was to establish a robust water supply and operate a defensive attack using large diameter hand lines and aerial master streams off the ladder trucks.

The building has been vacant for an extended period and been frequently used for unauthorized shelter. The owners of the building had attempted to fortify the boundary of the property to reduce this unauthorized use by encircling the property with 8’ tall cyclone fencing and placing cement blocks and jersey barriers along NE 122 to limit use of the parking lot as well. This fencing and concrete block barrier made the initial access for PF&R a challenge. Firefighters cut through locks on the fence and used a winch to move some barriers to gain access to the parking lot to establish positions for the defensive fire attack.

Initial direction of the location of the closest fire hydrants was reported by the first arriving truck officer as PF&R had identified this structure as likely to burn and knowledge of the hydrant location was established during the pre-planning discussions for an emergency event here. The number of hydrants located near this building is limited and with the demand of water needed to operate the aerial master streams successfully, there was direction to form a water supply group and proactively discover the best hydrants in the surrounding area to access and bring water to the fire scene. In one case, an engine was able to connect to a hydrant and bring the hose to the cyclone fencing and then connected to another hose on the other side of the fencing to a different fire engine to be able to flow the water from the hydrant to the aerial master stream on the truck.

The third and fourth alarm assignments, which brought the total of firefighters and staff on scene to nearly 100, were requested to have enough workforce on scene in the event an active ember that was taken aloft in the fire and smoke column and landed on a nearby structure or field that started a spot fire in the area. As the flames were cooled and suppressed by the aerial master streams, reducing and eliminating any threat to the neighborhood, the crews that were not assigned were released to return to their stations. 

A reverse 911 call was initiated from our dispatch center to nearly 50K phone numbers in the area asking residents to shelter in place and close windows to prevent smoke from entering their homes and possibly causing respiratory distress. When the smoke column was reduced to next to nothing, the same group of numbers were alerted that the shelter in place recommendation had been lifted.

Portland Fire & Rescue began fire watch style tactics 2 hours after the fire had been dispatched. This will have companies on scene throughout the day operating the aerial master streams and keeping the fire from growing throughout the vacant 120,000 square foot building. There were no reported injuries to any firefighter on scene. The cause of the fire is under investigation. If anyone has any information about the start of this fire, please call the Portland Fire Arson Hotline at (503) 823-FIRE (3473).

Portland Fire & Rescue would like to thank Gresham Fire & Emergency Services for their help on this fire scene. In addition to GFES, the assistance of the dispatchers at BOEC and our Fire Liaison who organized and distributed the SENDS messages for the safety of the community should also be noted. Finally, PF&R would like to thank ODOT and PPB for sending available units for traffic control to protect the hose lines on the ground along with the firefighters on the roadways working.

Source: Portland Fire & Rescue

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