A Lincoln City man died on Saturday, June 9, in a house fire that investigators say was most likely caused by a smoldering cigarette.
The man, whose identity had not been officially confirmed by the time The News Guard went to press, was identified by neighbors as Scott Morgan, a 54-year-old disabled Navy veteran.
North Lincoln Fire & Rescue District #1 Capt. Jim Kusz said the blaze started toward the front of the home, one of the Hyde Park cottage apartments on N.E. 14th Street.
Kusz said firefighters found the house fully engulfed in flames after being called out at about 9 p.m. and were unable to save the man inside.
Ed Herrington and his wife, Wilma, who live in an adjacent cottage, said they had to pound on the door of their neighbor, Marty Blake, to wake him as the flames began to spread to his home, which shared a wall with Morgan’s.
“I noticed all this black smoke, Wilma Herrington said. “I looked out the door and it was flames shooting out.”
One neighbor, posting under a screen name on The News Guard’s website, questioned the length of time it took for a fire truck to arrive on scene.
Kusz said NLFR received the call at 8:57 p.m. and had a duty officer respond from his home near the Tanger Outlet Center within six minutes.
The rest of the fire crew, Kusz said, were volunteers who had to respond from their homes to the Bob Everest station in Oceanlake before suiting up and boarding the fire truck, which arrived at the scene within 10 minutes of the call.
Kusz said that while some people assume the Bob Everest station is staffed 24/7, NLFR only has resources to staff the station on occasion; and even then only with a small crew of stipended volunteers geared toward emergency medical response.
“But for a fire like this,” he said, “it takes anywhere from 16 to 18 people to combat a fire like that.”
Kusz said the voter-approved bond measure that takes effect July 1 will allow NLFR to enhance its stipend system but stressed that the bond measure was not crafted with the aim of having stations staffed with full fire crews 24/7.
Kusz said the nature of Saturday’s blaze was such that even a faster response would not have made a difference.
“No one noticed anything until the thing literally burst into flames,” he said, adding: “The fact that we even saved the adjacent building is amazing in itself.”
The occupant of the adjacent building, Blake, has been displaced due to smoke damage and received assistance from the Willamette Chapter team of the Red Cross in the form of three nights emergency lodging at a local motel, funds for emergency food and clothing, and hygiene kits.
Stephan French, a friend who helped retrieve Blake’s belongings on Monday, June 11, said his friend is now homeless and in need of help.
French said Blake pumped gas at the north Chevron station for 13 years before having to quit due to disability.
“He’s been struggling for quite a while now,” French said.
Cecilia Pratt, readiness specialist with the Red Cross, said her organization will determine whether to refer Blake to other groups for longer-term assistance.
Sending a smoke signal
Kusz said fire damage might make it impossible to determine whether Morgan’s home had a working smoke alarm, adding that the fatal blaze was a “tragic start” to the district’s smoke alarm campaign week.
That campaign will see district staff and community volunteers Mike Skiles, Mark McPherson, Cheri McPherson and Dennis Civiello testing and installing 150 smoke alarms in targeted areas of the district.
"The presence of a working smoke alarm doubles your chances of surviving a fire, Capt. Jim Kusz said, “and our program will ensure that more of our residents have that protection."
According to the Office of State Fire Marshal, 80 percent of Oregon's fire fatalities occurred in homes. The majority of the home fire victims died in homes without a working smoke alarm. Often, Kusz said, the smoke alarms were not working because their batteries were dead, disconnected, or missing — adding that people should check their smoke alarms every month.
Local funding for this program was provided by the North Lincoln Fire & Rescue Volunteer Association.