PORTLAND -- One or more arsonists sparked two early morning fires that broke out in Northeast Portland Monday, fire officials said.
A house and a commercial building within blocks of one another were struck in quick succession in the early morning hours Monday. The fires, set in the Eliot Neighborhood north of Lloyd Center, are connected, according to investigators with Portland Fire and Rescue.
Neighbors have speculated that squatters might have been responsible but investigators have not been quick to embrace the theory.
"They [investigators] do believe someone did intentionally set these fires," said Rich Chatman of Portland Fire and Rescue. "Whether or not this is squatters, we don't know. If you are a squatters why would you burn down your own shelter?"
At 3:45 a.m. fire crews arrived at a vacant house at 308 NE Monroe St. The home had already been badly burned in a 5-alarm fire last August.
When firefighters arrived, flames were spilling out of the first and second floors.
While the fire was extinguished in 30 minutes, Battalion Chief Tom Williams said there was an added danger for crews because the house was already severely burned.
More: Investigators seek cause of 5-alarm Portland fire
"It's a little odd," he said. "We don't know what the integrity of the home was. It makes it a little bit more difficult for us to go in and do our work."
Then, at 4:48 a.m., crews responded to another fire four blocks away at a vacant gas station at 2621 NE 7th Avenue. When the firefighters entered the building, they found stored furniture inside alight and quickly put out the items, said Rich Chatman of Portland Fire and Rescue.
Initial investigations determined that both vacant buildings had been used by squatters and that both buildings showed evidence of drug use inside, Chatman said.
Some neighbors had suspected that the house fire was deliberately set by transients.
"People coming in and out of it at various times, there’s been graffiti tagging on the house," said neighbor Sherry Morrow.
Investigators have not ruled out the possibility.
There have been several significant fires in the area in the last 12 months.
A house around the corner at 32 NE Fremont St. was destroyed by fire on Feb. 18 of last year. In August, a five-story apartment building under construction at the corner of Northeast Monroe Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard burned to the ground.
Photos: 5-alarm fire in Portland
No one was injured in either of the two Monday fires.
Erica Heartquist and Cornelius Swart contributed to this story