BEND, Ore. - (Update: Specific fire cause unknown; losses top $1 million)
An intense, fast-moving fire that destroyed a home on Bend's Awbrey Butte early Wednesday, causing more than $1 million in damage, began outside the home, investigators said late in the day. Smoke alarms awakened the seven residents and guests, who escaped unhurt, but two dogs were killed.
"The main message is make sure you have working smoke alarms," Bend Fire Battalion Chief Dave Howe said outside the blackened shell of the home on Northwest Bungalow Drive. "Make sure you test them and make sure they’re actually operational -- and don’t ignore them when they go off."
Firefighters stopped the blaze that had begun to spread to a neighboring home, where John Glasier lives.
"I thought there might have been a party going on," Glasier said later. "I realized that my living room windows were breaking from the heat. I feel like 15 minutes later and that would’ve been our house also."
Firefighters responded at 3:42 a.m. to a neighbor’s report of the house fire in the 3200 block of Northwest Bungalow Drive, on the east side of Awbrey Butte, Howe said.
They arrived to find a 3,000-square-foot house ablaze and the flames spreading to trees and a neighboring house that was starting to ignite. Howe said the first of nearly 20 firefighters called out used a defensive attack to keep the fire from spreading farther.
The burned home was declared a total loss, with losses of $600,000 to the structure, $400,000 worth of contents and a $3,000 vehicle.
Due to the extent of damage, investigators were unable to determine a specific cause of the fire. But Deputy Fire Marshal Dan Derlacki said they find the fire began on the home's exterior and extended inside.
"Improper disposal of smoking materials and an extension cord failure could not be ruled out as possible causes," Derlacki wrote in a Wednesday evening update.
"Nowadays, everything we put in our house is made of plastic, and it’s all basically oil and it burns ferociously," Howe said. "It burns a lot hotter, it burns faster and it burns more toxically. You don’t have time to do anything but just get out of the house."
The four residents of the home – two adults and two children – and three adult house guests were awakened when the smoke alarms went off and quickly got out, as did a person in the accessory dwelling, Howe said. However, two dogs died in the fire.
American Red Cross disaster responders were called in to help attend to the displaced residents’ and guests’ immediate needs.
Howe said the fire served as another reminder that “working smoke alarms save lives by alerting you to the presence of a fire and giving you time to escape.”
“Without operating alarms, the seven people in this incident may not have been able to evacuate in time,” he said.
"Nobody is immune, nobody is 100 percent guaranteed that they’re not going to have a fire." Howe added.
Derlacki said "the alarms truly saved this family's lives."
Bend Fire received mutual-aid support from Redmond, which sent an engine and medic unit, and Sunriver, which provided a medic unit.
The home was insured, while the residents in the neighboring, damaged home had renters insurance, Howe said.
Crews from Cascade Natural Gas and Pacific Power were called out, as were Bend police and street crews to keep the area clear during firefighting efforts.
Derlacki said the Bend Fire Department offers free smoke alarm checks for residents in its fire district. Call 541-322-6300 to schedule a visit.
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