Oregon Firefighters Hurt in Backdraft at 3-Alarm Blaze

Aug. 27--Firefighters knocked backward by explosive flames while fighting a three-alarm blaze at a Oregon City strip mall early Wednesday sustained just minor injuries thanks to their protective suits, authorities said.

Several firefighters were caught in what's known as a "backdraft," said Clackamas Fire District 1 spokesman Brandon Paxton. Crews pushed through a door to the inside the burning building, allowing fresh oxygen to rush in and stoke the flames.

The explosive reaction threw at least two firefighters back about 10 to 15 feet, Paxton said. The flames also burst through a nearby window, spraying glass at the firefighters. The incident prompted a "mayday" distress call and crews raced to the firefighters' aid.

The backdraft occurred about 40 minutes after a passerby reported the fire at the mall at 1009 Molalla Ave. When crews arrived just around 5 a.m., they saw heavy brown and black smoke rising from the building.

Lt. Kirk Stempel with the Gladstone Fire Department was transported to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center with first- and second-degree burns to his hands and face. Stempel has since been treated and released, Paxton said. A Clackamas Fire District 1 firefighter hit by the backdraft was uninjured.

Thank you for all the support ! Two burned hands and a burnt face, but otherwise I am doing good .

-- Kirk Stempel (PIO) (@GladstoneFire) August 27, 2014

Paxton said the severity of the injuries were limited by the firefighter's protective gear.

Rick Cram shares concern over 3-alarm fire in Oregon City Rick Cram, co-owner of United Auto Glass, shares his concern for their business during a 3-alarm fire in Oregon City.

"A fairly significant 'near miss' is what we call it in the industry," Paxton said.

Another firefighter, not hit by the backdraft, was injured by rolling his ankle, Paxton said.

The mall, home to an auto glass shop and four other businesses, was unoccupied at the time. Calls to the owner of the property went unreturned Wednesday. Another commercial property just south of the burning building sustained some water and smoke damage, Paxton said.

About 45 firefighters from several agencies, including the Canby and Molalla districts, assisted in the operation. The fire was brought under control by 6:44 a.m.

Fire investigators are continuing to conduct interviews and dig through the building to determine the cause, origin and amount of damage to the building.

-- Michael Bamesberger

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