Fire at Jewish Center in Portland may have been arson
Fire investigators are asking for eyewitness accounts and security camera footage to further probe the cause of a fire at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life on Wednesday, Aug. 19.
An early morning blaze that broke out at the property at 2317 S.W. Vermont St. around 2:45 a.m. left heavy fire and smoke damage.
No one was in the one-and-a-half story building at the time, which is a residential structure built in 1929 that is currently used as a commercial space. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but fire crews say they believe it could have been intentionally set.
The fire was the second one at that building in a week. Five days prior, on Aug. 14, firefighters responded to the Chabad House for what was later determined to be an electrical fire that started in an upstairs office space. The second blaze is more suspicious, Portland Fire & Rescue Lt. Rich Chatman said Tuesday, Sept. 1.
"The investigators are still actively trying to determine what happened at that fire and we're doing a call for information from the public," Chatman said Tuesday, Sept. 1.
Hours after the fire, Rabbi Motti Wilhelm confirmed no one was injured in the incident.
"Thank God no one was hurt. Everybody is shake(n) due to the nature of it," Wilhelm told the Connection on Aug. 19.
Anyone who lives or works in the area near Southwest Idaho Street, Southwest Vermont, Southwest 23rd Place, Southwest Capitol Highway, South Bertha Boulevard or surrounding streets is asked to provide home or business surveillance footage. Specifically, investigators are interested in footage capturing "any kind of odd activity" between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m. Aug. 14, or midnight to 3 a.m. Aug. 19.
The Aug. 19 blaze was a two-alarm fire, meaning extra firefighting resources were called in. PF&R crews on scene noted the fire was "far advanced" by the time they arrived. When firefighters were called to the building, it was still boarded up from the electrical fire less than a week prior.
"Which is why they're spending so much time looking at this," Chatman said of investigators. "They do not believe that this fire had the same cause. The building was boarded up, nobody was working in there. This one is looking a little more suspicious."
Anyone with information or camera footage to share should contact 503-823-INFO (4636).
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