It wasn’t the smoke alarm or people screaming outside that woke Cody Moores from his power nap before his shift at a nearby convenience store. It was his inability to breathe.
“I woke up hacking and choking. My whole room was full of smoke,” said Moores, who lived on the third floor of 84 Irving St., the building in the Woodfords neighborhood of Portland that erupted in flames Sunday night. Moments later, Moores found his escape path blocked by a burning wall and he was too disoriented to find a window.
“I heard somebody screaming the front door had been cleared,” Moores said. He staggered toward the sound but passed out two steps from the threshold. He woke up on the front lawn. He looked up and saw 30-foot flames billowing from his bedroom.
Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire, Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria said Monday. The department has interviewed residents and analyzed the scene but may not be able to pinpoint a cause until Tuesday, he said.
The 2½-story building, valued at $188,000 in city tax records, appeared to be a total loss.
The owner, Donald Foster, and his three tenants in the 130-year-old Victorian building escaped uninjured, as did two guests.
Firefighters were called to the multi-unit building at 9:20 p.m. Sunday. The fire burned late into the night and although it was under control by 11:45 p.m., crews remained at the scene until early Monday morning putting out the last of the fire, LaMoria said. Even then, crews returned later in the morning to extinguish areas that flared up.
Moores said he feels grateful to be alive, even if all his belongings burned.
“If I had spent the extra three seconds to grab the smokes off the nightstand, I’d be dead right now,” Moores said Monday afternoon.
Moores was napping on the third floor, before working the third shift at Cumberland Farms. When the fire broke out, he moved fast to the stairs.
“When I got down to the second floor, the smoke was so thick I couldn’t see the stairs at my feet,” he said. When he got to the first floor, he found the front door blocked by debris that was going to be taken to the dump.
“I will never barricade a door ever again,” he said. He headed to the porch door at the side of the house that is the main entrance.
“That whole wall was completely engulfed in flames,” he said. The waves of flame looked just the way they do on television programs and in the movies, but with a major difference, he said.
“One thing they can’t mimic is how it feels to be suffocated and blind and how it feels to be in an oven,” Moores said. “Nothing will ever mentally prepare somebody for something like that. It’s probably one of the scariest things anyone could ever go through.”
The fire tore quickly through the old house.
Joe Aceto was at the other end of the building on the second floor. He had just returned from the bathroom Sunday night when he flicked on his bedroom light switch and saw smoke flowing up the wall near his bed.
He realized immediately there was a fire below him and ran downstairs to make sure the resident who lived there got out safely.
“By the time I got down here,” he said, gesturing to the charred remains of the side porch, “there were flames coming out the door.”
The first-floor resident was already outside when Aceto got out of the building.
Once outside, he ran to warn the residents living at the front of the house, including the building’s owner. It was Aceto who kicked in the front door to the foyer, but he was unable to climb the stairs, he said.
“I got in five to eight feet and I couldn’t breathe, it spread so quick,” he said. Moores managed to get out the front door.
Aceto said he had lived in the house for a couple of months and had no renter’s insurance. His most immediate concern on Monday was to find a partial denture that he left behind.
“Everything I own is in there – which is not much,” he added wryly. He did, however, have a new laptop computer that he hoped had been rescued, he said.
The investigation into the cause continues, but Moores believes it was electrical, given the age of the building’s wiring system. The room where the residents believe the fire started had no electricity but was served by a tangle of extension cords, Moores said.
The Red Cross will provide lodging at the Super 8 motel for three days while the displaced residents make other arrangements.
The city has a policy of inspecting multi-family dwellings once a year, LaMoria said, but he was unable to say when the building was last inspected by a fire company. City Hall and the department’s administrative offices were closed Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday.
It’s unclear whether the inspection requirement would apply to 84 Irving St.
A multi-family dwelling is defined in the city codes covering fire regulations as three units or more.
The house at 84 Irving St. is listed as a two-family building on the city’s assessment records.
Aceto said he was renting an apartment but Foster was also renting rooms to the other two men.
Besides the fire, there were other mishaps Sunday night, Moores said.
As he and Foster stood watching the flames, a woman moving her car for the fire engines backed into Foster, Moores said. Luckily, he was not injured, he said.
Moores, who was in his stocking feet and wearing only his work uniform, sought shelter in a police cruiser. The officer asked his name, ran it through the computer and found that Moores has a warrant for failing to pay a 2010 fine for operating a vehicle after suspension, he said.
The officer’s supervisor considered whether to let him off with a court summons, and asked whether Moores had a fixed address. Seeing the burning building, the officer said, ‘No.’ The supervisor ordered him taken to the county jail, where Moores got someone to post bail.
But Moores isn’t bitter. His employer, Cumberland Farms, has been supportive. One of his regular customers at the Washington Avenue convenience store also heard about the fire and left him $100 in an envelope.
“I broke down into tears,” he said.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: