Bend fire investigators say a malfunctioning barbecue likely sparked a fire that tore through part of a northwest Bend four-plex along the Deschutes River early Wednesday morning, forcing sleeping residents to evacuate and causing about $400,000 in damage but no injuries.
"I came out running out in my pajamas, and my boyfriend and I just watched the entire thing go up in flames," said neighbor Courtney Wickham.
"It looked light it was just a little thing -- and then everything blew up," she added.
The initial report was of a back deck on fire of a three-story complex and residents evacuating the River Falls complex at 1554 NW First Street, near Portland and Awbrey avenues, said Bend fire Battalion Chief Bill Boos.
Arriving crews found active fire on the second third-floor deck of the three-story building, with flames starting to enter the attic space, Boos said.
“We were able to knock down the fire from the exterior, but had a difficult time extinguishing the fire in the attic,” Boos said, “due to the type of construction.”
Once there were enough crews on hand, “we were able to rotate crews through the building and put out the attic fire,” the battalion chief added.
Wednesday afternoon, Deputy Fire Marshal Jeff Bond said an investigation found the fire began on a second-story wood deck, under a propane barbecue.
Bond said the residents reported using the barbecue Tuesday evening, and said it had malfunctioned.
"The ignition cause was likely related to that mechanical malfunction," he wrote, "and accumulation of grease and food residue."
The blaze left three families without much left to go home to.
"We just woke up to this crackling noise, and then our neighbors came knocking on the door to get us up and out," said resident Michelle Moon.
Moon lives right next door to where the fire started. Her first instinct was to grab the animals and get out.
"The only thing I grabbed was my cat carrier and my cats," Moon said. "And then the police officer knocked on the door telling me I needed to evacuate because I guess a propane tank exploded on the second floor."
Her two cats have yet to be found; she thinks they most likely ran from the flames.
What might not have escaped was one of Moon's most prized possessions.
"I have a chest that's just full of our family photos, so I'm really hoping that's okay," she said.
After a sleepless night, and a long morning, Moon said she was just glad everyone is safe.
"Just make sure you know your neighbors, no matter where you live," she said. "Know the pets they have, the people who live there. Since this is small, and everyone knew each other, it was really helpful knowing everyone is alright."
Bond reminded "everyone to keep their cooking appliances in good working order, and clean regularly to avoid accumulation of flammable residue."
"Also, it is recommended that barbecue grills not be used on combustible decks, including those constructed of wood or composite materials, and keep them away from combustible materials," he said.
Three fire departments were called in on mutual aid – Sunriver crews helping with operations at the scene, and Redmond and Cloverdale helping cover the district with firefighters busy at the scene.
Neighbors called in reporting an explosion, leading them to believe a propane tank had been touched off in the fire..
While no injuries were reported, the Red Cross is assisting the displaced residents with lodging and other needs.