September 4, 2012 in City

Fire razes vacant Portland hotel

Five-alarm blaze largest in area in a decade
Associated Press

PORTLAND – Fire officials say a dramatic fire at a vacant hotel in North Portland has caused an estimated $5.6 million in damages.

Portland Fire & Rescue spokesman Michael Silva said arson has not been ruled out as a cause of the five-alarm fire that took more than 200 fire crew members from around the region to put out.

The fire destroyed major portions of the historic Thunderbird Hotel on Hayden Island near Interstate 5. The freeway was closed for several hours early Sunday because embers were hitting cars on the highway and smoke was limiting visibility.

Although the hotel has been vacant for several years, the building was being used for storage, including mattresses and other furniture, which contributed to the spread of the fire.

Crews expected to continue mopping up the fire through today, the Columbian reported in Monday’s newspaper.

It is considered the biggest local fire in more than a decade and its cause probably will not be known for days.

“We haven’t had a five-alarm structure fire since 1999,” said Ron Rouse, fire inspector for Portland Fire & Rescue.

“I’ve heard from several firefighters that that was the biggest fire they have been on in their careers” Rouse said.

The 352-room hotel has been vacant since 2005. It was once owned by Vancouver’s Tod McClaskey and Ridgefield’s Ed Pietz, who sold their 54-hotel empire in 1984. The site once was mentioned for a Wal-Mart store, but plans fell through.

Rod Russell, director of operations for the Thunderbird, said the building had not been condemned and was for sale. But given the circumstances, the chances of a buyer coming through are “slim to none,” he said months before the fire.

The Thunderbird had 24-hour security, a fully functioning fire detection and suppression system, and regular inspections, and it was also visited by law enforcement and emergency responders from both sides of the river, Russell said.

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