Under-construction apts a fire risk?

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The massive fire that razed the Monroe Apartments in Northeast Portland Thursday morning spread hot, burning embers in the neighborhood and severely damaged two nearby homes.

Since March 2012, the city of Portland has issued permits for 82 new apartments or condominium buildings.

Despite being separated by a large backyard, the Monroe Apartments fire was so hot it bubbled the paint on the side of Jessica Cyr’s house. She believes the size of the fire was directly linked to what stage of construction it was in.

“It wasn’t completed yet. There wasn’t any drywall. Most of it was just wood and it just went up in flames within a half-hour,” Cyr told KOIN 6 News. “I think that had a large role in how it reached out to the surrounding properties. So I was very, very surprised.”

Cyr got out of bed when she heard the crackling and saw the orange glow Thursday morning.

“People should be watchful and mindful that something like that can happen,” she said.

“When there is a fire like this it kind of comes to the forefront,” PF&R fire inspector Ron Rouse told KOIN 6 News. “These buildings don’t have their sprinkler systems in yet, they don’t have their drywall, they don’t have their sheet rock. They don’t have the tings that will stop a fire from spreading, but really, there’s not cause for alarm.”

PF&R said there’s no added risk for new buildings to catch fire, but if they do, the consequences can be much bigger.

Liz Davis, the owner of the restaurant Xico along SE Division, thought about that a lot after the Monroe Apartments fire. Her restaurant is within a few inches of an apartment building under construction.

“That would just be so devastating for us,” Davis told KOIN 6 News. “We wouldn’t come back from that, I don’t think.”

She said a group of people trespassed and entered the apartment building next to hers.

“Nobody wants to live next to a vacant building,” she said. “There was a fire extinguisher inside the place and they started spraying it all over the place.”

Until a building is enclosed there’s a risk of people getting inside. That’s one of the biggest concerns of the general contractor working on a building at 33rd and Division. He told KOIN 6 News several of his projects have motion sensors that alert police if there’s movement.

Another challenge, firefighters said, is that vacant buildings often burn for a while before anyone notices.

“It’s just difficult at night because it takes a lof for someone to call it in,” Rouse said.

That’s why Davis is more than happy to gain new neighbors.

“I definitely am looking forward to this project being done,” she said, “and hopefully rented quickly.”

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