Fire officials said blaze started in the basement where man slept

Robert Eugene McLaughlin, 60, was found dead in the basement of a house that burned down on Southeast Hurlburt Road in Corbett early Tuesday morning, Dec. 17.

This was the first fire-related death in the Corbett district since the mid-1970s.

The man’s death has been ruled accidental by the Multnomah County Medical Examiner’s Office.

McLaughlin died of asphyxia from smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide, said Lindsay Fitzsimmons, deputy medical examiner.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, said Rich Hoover, spokesman at the Oregon Office of State Fire Marshal, but officials believe it started in the basement where flames burned the hottest and where McLaughlin slept.

However, dilapidated conditions have made it difficult for investigators to pinpoint the exact cause of the fire, Hoover said.

“There is about eight inches of water and muck down there,” he said.

Investigators found a wood stove and a propane heater in the basement, and propane heaters are not approved for indoor use, Hoover said.

Shortly after midnight Tuesday, Dec. 17, a neighbor saw flames in the 35000 block of Southeast Hurlburt Road and called 9-1-1. The woman and her husband told emergency dispatchers they didn’t think anyone was home at the time because the homeowner’s car was not outside.

Eleven minutes later, firefighters arrived on the scene.

Phil Dearixon, fire chief for the Multnomah County Rural Fire Protection District No. 14, said his initial action was to try to knock down the fire in the basement, then get crews on the first floor to do a search for victims.

“Nobody initially believed anybody was home,” the fire chief said.

With about a third of the first floor also on fire, firefighters searched the first and second floors of the two-story house for victims, but found no one.

Dearixon said crews were unable to enter the basement immediately because of the intensity of the blaze and a partial collapse of the floor leading into the basement.

“Deep charring in the basement indicated the fire had a really good start on us,” the fire chief said.

Later on, firefighters found McLaughlin’s body in the basement.

Officials have not released any other details on the location of his death.

Dearixon said the home, owned by the deceased man’s mother, Jane McLaughlin, is considered a complete loss, with a damage estimate of $300,000.

Some Corbett residents believed Sean McLaughlin, a trumpet player and brother of Robert McLaughlin, was the man who died in the fire.

But that’s not the case.

Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office detectives talked with Sean McLaughlin, along with his sister, Rachel McLaughlin, at the scene of the fire, said Lt. Steve Alexander, spokesman at the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.

The Outlook was unable to reach the victim’s family members for comment.

Dearixon said some news media claimed the closest water hydrants to the fire were two miles away, forcing crews to haul in water.

The fire chief refuted those claims, saying there were hydrants close by on Hurlburt Road.

“We chose to use water tenders,” he said. “At no point did we ever run out of water. Water was not an issue.”

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