Investigators: MLK apartment fire was arson

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The five-alarm blaze that destroyed the six-story Monroe Apartments in northeast Portland on Aug. 8 was arson, investigators confirmed Monday afternoon.

8-12-13-portland fire spokesperson
A Portland Fire spokesperson talks to media Monday afternoon, Aug. 12, following a five-alarm apartment fire now considered to fit the definition of arson. (KOIN 6 News)

Investigators made that determination after a days-long examination of the site and the evidence.

“The investigators, at this point, have determined that whatever device or whatever was used to start this fire,” said Portland Fire Lt. Rich Chatman at a Monday afternoon news conference, was done with “intentional purpose.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is seeking more tips and will offer a reward. According to Portland Fire & Rescue, tips can be called into 1.888.283.3473 (ATF-FIRE).

According to information released by Portland Mayor Charlie Hales’ office, the ATF is offering a $2,500 reward for information about the fire. Portland Fire & Rescue estimated the damages to the Monroe Apartments development at about $5 million. That estimate did not include damage to neighboring homes and property.

A massive fire destroyed a 6-story apartment building under construction in NE Portland, Aug. 8, 2013 (PF&R)
A massive fire destroyed a 6-story apartment building under construction in NE Portland, Aug. 8, 2013 (PF&R)

The under-construction apartments in the Eliot neighborhood broke out before 4:15 a.m. at Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Monroe Street. Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews responded to find a wall of flame. Twelve surrounding homes were evacuated.

“The whole thing is on fire,” said one 9-1-1 caller. “It is twice as tall as the five-story building; the flames are 75 feet tall.”

The caller also described explosions.

About 15 minutes later the vacant building collapsed. The collapse was quick, with the walls caving in and embers flying in all directions. One of its walls pushed into an adjacent home, which set it on fire and eventually destroyed it.

The only thing left of the Monroe Apartments in Northeast Portland is rubble after a 5-alarm blaze on Aug. 8, 2013 (KOIN 6 News)
The only thing left of the Monroe Apartments in Northeast Portland is rubble after a five-alarm blaze on Aug. 8, 2013. (KOIN 6 News)

A second home also was destroyed, and several others were damaged by radiant heat. At least one vehicle, a BMW, was destroyed.

About 135 personnel battled the blaze in shifts, constituting more than 75% of PF&R’s total firefighting staff. Off-duty firefighters were being called in to help cover calls from other neighborhoods.

The contractor on this MLK apartment project is Pavilion Construction.

— KOIN 6 News anchor Chad Carter contributed to this report. Follow him on Twitter @ChadCKOIN.

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