Gas explosion destroys NW Portland building, 8 injured

Firefighters were inside the building at the time of the explosion

A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)
A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Three firefighters, 2 police officers and 3 others were injured in a large gas explosion Wednesday morning in Northwest Portland.

The incident happened at NW 23rd Avenue and Glisan Street in the Dosha Salon Spa building. Officials with Portland Fire & Rescue confirmed the injuries and said no one died as a result of the explosion.

A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)
A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)

PF&R Lt. Rich Chatman said the firefighters affected all sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Lt. Peter St. John was taken into surgery Wednesday afternoon for a broken leg. He was out of surgery and in good spirits later in the night.

The police officer’s injuries were not significant, Lt. Chatman said.

In a statement, NW Natural said a contractor dug into one of its gas lines at 500 NW 23rd Avenue around 8:55 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, NW Natural crews evacuated the building.

A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)
A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)

The explosion happened at 9:38 a.m while firefighters were already inside investigating the gas leak. Officials said they don’t know what caused the ignition.

“I’ve been a firefighter for 28 years and I have not seen devastation like this,” PF&R Chief Mike Myers said. “If it wasn’t for the efforts of a few firefighters today, and a very special leader in our organization who made some very serious and very important decisions, I’m afraid we’d be having a different discussion.”

Around 100 firefighters were still fighting hotspots and assessing damages at noon.

Chief Myers commended firefighters who were “calm, collected and made very, very good decisions that saved lives.” The chief, who has only been with PF&R for 90 days, said he is “very impressed with the training and dedication of these firefighters.”

NW Natural CEO/President David Anderson said another 115 gas customers in the area had service shut down, and all structures within 100 yards have been checked by NW Natural crews. A leak survey was conducted in a 2-block radius and officials kept an eye on infrastructure. The area was declared safe as of 7:10 p.m.

Witnesses recall explosion: “We heard and saw these huge booms”

The COO of Dosha Salon Spa Kimberly Johnson tells KOIN 6 News she was on the phone with her team members and heard the explosion when it happened.

Johnson said the building was completely demolished by the blast, but all of her workers were able to evacuate and have been accounted for.

“We came in to start our day at 9 a.m. and smelled something funny, so we called the gas company,” Allison Williams, who was inside Dosha at the time, said. “They promptly told us to get out of the building. We were outside and not that far from the building when we heard and saw these huge booms, the building exploded, the glass was shattered and it instantly burst in flames. It was pretty scary.”

Once the explosion happened, Williams said firefighters “were instantly in action. Smoke made it hard to see, but they were instantly doing their job.”

“They were amazing,” Williams said.

Photos: Gas explosion rocks Portland neighborhood

Johnson said Dosha recently celebrated 25 years in business. They had a flood and recently rebuilt, she said, and had been back open for about the past 7 months.

The building has won many architectural awards and currently has owner-occupants, Johnson said.

Employees at Portland Bagelworks said they were also evacuated before the explosion and that all of their team has been accounted for.

This is what the building looked like before the gas explosion. October 19, 2016, (Google Maps)
This is what the building looked like before the gas explosion. October 19, 2016, (Google Maps)

Jason Kundell’s Artwork Rebel Tattoo Studio was also destroyed in the blast. He said 20 years of his life is gone, hidden somewhere underneath all the rubble.

“It’s still hard to imagine, it’s hard to wrap my mind around it,” Kundell said. “It was such an immeasurable amount of damage and loss.”

Many witnesses told KOIN 6 News they heard a loud explosion and buildings in the area shook. Plumes of smoke could be seen from many places in the city.

Mark Goldstricker, who lives in the area, said he was at home when the explosion happened. He said the blast “could have been an earthquake.”

A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)
A gas explosion took place at NW 23rd and Glisan in Portland on Wednesday morning. October 19, 2016, (KOIN)

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating. It is protocol for them to come when large explosions occur, Lt. Chatman said.

Two blocks around the explosion site remain closed.

Officials said it was safe for residents in the area of NW 23rd Avenue and Glisan Street to return home Wednesday evening, but those who live at 2275 and 2281 NW Glisan Street are still asked to stay away.

The Red Cross set up a reception center for affected residents at 1972 NW Flanders Street where they can receive food, water, shelter and other services.

Anyone who needs mental health support or other assistance can call Multnomah County Health’s 24-hour crisis support line at 503.988.4888.

Those impacted by the blast can contact NW Natural at 800.882.3377.

An aerial view shows firefighters going through the rubble after a gas explosion demolished a building at NW 23rd and Glisan, October 19, 2016 (KOIN)
An aerial view shows firefighters going through the rubble after a gas explosion demolished a building at NW 23rd and Glisan, October 19, 2016 (KOIN)