Portland food carts destroyed in fire, investigators look for ignition source

Firefighters work to put out a fire at a food cart pod in downtown Portland, Oregon on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. (Photo: Greg Muir/Portland Fire & Rescue) KATU

PORTLAND, Ore. – The investigation continues Thursday into the explosive fire that totaled two food carts and ten cars in a downtown Portland parking lot.


There were no reports of injuries from the fire.

Investigators said the fire broke out when an employee at one of the carts was refueling a generator. Fire officials said the fuel tank fumes ignited on a nearby heat source, however investigators are still working to find out the exact point of ignition.

“Investigators weren't 100 percent sure because you don't visually know where the fumes have traveled to, right? So they can go down along the ground, they can find a hot tailpipe on a vehicle or if that motor head on that generator unit was hot enough it could have ignited as well,” said Capt. Louisa Jones of the Portland Fire Bureau.

Both cart owners tried to put out the flames with fire extinguishers, but the flames quickly grew and caused nearby propane tanks to explode.

Officials said there is a regulation that requires a working extinguisher in each cart.

A group of food carts caught fire in 2015. Investigators found that combustibles stored between the carts caught fire.

The Fire Bureau says there are 800 registered food carts in the Portland area, and close to 400 more that aren’t registered. They’ve averaged one fire a year over the last half-decade.

“To have five fires is very unfortunate and we don't like to see people lose their businesses in any circumstance,” said Jones. “But the numbers themselves are actually speaking - we believe - more to the safety of what's happening out there.” The Portland Fire Bureau says the biggest problems their inspectors see are things like keeping walkways and fire escapes clear and plugging in too many extension cords into an outlet.

They also say nearby food cart operators tend to keep others in line, because an accident at one food cart can easily put a neighboring cart out of business too.

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