Fire investigators found no evidence of explosions in the house, but there may be an explanation

DAVID F. ASHTON - Firefighters steered clear of the live electrical power line that drooped down across the sidewalk. Eastmoreland neighbors reported hearing a loud explosion that rattled their windows on Saturday evening, September 23, at about 9:30 p.m. Then they noticed a house nearby, on S.E. 32nd Avenue and Bybee Boulevard, was on fire.

"The explosions shook our house, and we live more than a block away," remarked Mia Johnson, as she and her family watched Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) crews at work.

Woodstock Fire Station 25's Truck and Engine companies were first to arrive, radioing back to the dispatcher that they saw flames, and that an electrical power line was down in the street. A minute later, Westmoreland Station 20's engine pulled up.

Not long into the firefight, water from a firehose caused the energized downed power line to arc, pop, and ignite – briefly illuminating the area with a bright whitish blue light.

"Firefighters found fire on the first and second floors and in the attic of the two-story house, as well as in home's garage," later reported PF&R spokesman Lt. Damon Simmons. "The house's occupants were outside when fire crews arrived; however, one adult male was transported to the hospital for evaluation."

While some firefighters laddered up the exterior of the structure, others attacked the fire from inside the house.

By 11:10 p.m., the blaze had been extinguished, but firefighters went on to spend hours looking for hot spots.

The report of initial explosions prompted exceptionally close attention from fire investigators, but the cause of the fire was determined to be "improperly discarded smoking materials; with a loss valued at $65,000." As for what prompted the original calls to 9-1-1, the official report on the fire comments, "Other than the initial reports of explosions, there was no further information or evidence of such."

However, when the fallen powerline later arced on the ground during the fire, the flash and very loud bang could be perceived at some distance, and it may be that the powerline had already burned off the house and noisily had begun to arc before the fire itself was readily apparent to neighbors.