PORTLAND, Ore. — On Tuesday afternoon, Portland Fire & Rescue investigators went inside the May Apartments for the first time since flames tore through the aging structure a week ago.
Investigators went directly to the room where they believe the fire started on the third floor, but stayed for only a few minutes. They retreated so the technical rescue team, or structural collapse specialists, could go in and build safety shoring and reinforcements to protect against a collapse. Once that was complete, investigators went back inside and got to work.
Support staff was outside monitoring any movement of the exterior walls, wind speed and anything else that could negatively impact the structural integrity of the building.
"This is an unreinforced masonry building with a wooden façade and brick façade outside of that, so it's a convoluted sort of structure that's been significantly damaged by the fire and water, so absolutely we're taking this as seriously as it needs to be and there's a significant threat absolutely," Portland Fire & Rescue spokesman Rick Graves said.
Public records obtained by KGW indicate that firefighters have responded to the May apartments more than 30 times since late November 2022. Fully half of those responses came after someone intentionally pulled a fire alarm, with the most recent one just two days before the fire last Tuesday.
The public records suggest that all 16 of these intentional fire alarms were done for malicious or mischievous reasons. In all likelihood that will come up in the investigation.
Portland Fire investigators hope what they find in the building, coupled with the 3D imaging from drones, will help determine the cause of the blaze.
A city engineer red-tagged the building Wednesday, meaning no civilians are allowed inside because of the concerns about its structural integrity. The owners of the building have 30 days to decide if they will rebuild from what is left or tear down the building. That 30-day clock started last Thursday.