Three Gresham families are homeless after a boy playing with fire burned his family's apartment, and damaged two others, on Wednesday, Sept. 25.

The boy, 5, was being babysat by his grandmother, along with two other children, ages 5 and 2, when they boy used a lighter to set a bed on fire at the Fir Crest Apartments in the 19500 block of Northeast Hasley Street at about 4:50 p.m., said Kim Coxen, senior deputy fire marshal with Gresham Fire & Emergency Services.

Both 5-year-old and the grandmother tried to put the fire out using pots and pans filled with water, but were unable to. The grandmother then called 911 while another resident pulled a fire alarm in the 10-unit complex.

The fire destroyed the family's second-story unit, and damaged the unit below it. Firefighters had to pull down the ceiling of an apartment next to the unit where the fire started to make sure flames hadn't spread to the attic, resulting in a third unit sustaining significant damage, Coxen said.

In total, 11 people have been displaced, including five adults and six children. None of the families had renters' insurance. Damage to the structure is estimated at $80,000, with lost contents estimated at $30,000.

Volunteers with the American Red Cross Cascades Region are providing lodging, food, clothing, comfort kits and information about counseling. More details will be reported as the are available.

Coxen said when such a fire breaks out, a responsible adults needs to evacuate everyone and immediately call 911 to avoid delays in firefighters responding to extinguish the fire.

Also, lighters and matches need to be kept out of reach of children.

"A 5-year-old can operate a lighter and can start such a devastating fire," she said, adding that she's investigated many fires set by 3-year-olds and even those as young as 2. While children may have the manuel dexterity to work a lighter, "they may not be able to understand the consequences," she said. "And the combination of those two are frightening, especially in an apartment complex where their actions can affect so many people."

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