Neighbors: Break-ins, transients common at hotel destroyed by fire

Neighbors: Break-ins, transients common at hotel destroyed by fire »Play Video
Crews battle the fire at the Thunderbird Hotel on Hayden Island from the water early Sunday morning.

PORTLAND, Ore. - A problem with people trespassing onto the property of a vacant North Portland hotel that was destroyed by fire over the weekend has been going on for years, according to people who live in the area.

The inferno at the Thunderbird Hotel on Hayden Island could be seen for miles early Sunday morning. The hotel has been sitting empty for seven years and in recent years it's been up for sale. Investigators are still waiting to be allowed to go through the rubble. They have to wait for firefighters to put out hot spots.

Carla Heikkila lives nearby and watched as crews fought the fire. But for some time neighbors have fought a different battle surrounding that property.

"(There have been) transients and young kids partying and stuff over there," Heikkila said Monday, adding there has been smoking and drinking as well.

A fence does surround the property but it ends just before the river. At that spot there is a little path that people in the area say transients use to break-in.

Additionally, a formal complaint was filed with the city three weeks ago, stating people were "cutting wire" to get in.

"The transients are in and out of there all the time. We see that quite a bit," said Herman Kachold, who can see the fence from his home.

Property management for the Thunderbird Hotel and adjacent, operating Red Lion, said they asked police to make more arrests and have been aware of the problem.

"The police have made some arrests here in past months, trying to crack down on it," Kachold said.

A security guard is supposed to be patrolling the property as well – every 30 minutes, 24 hours a day as required by the fire marshal after the sprinkler system in the hotel was shut off.

A guard outside the Red Lion declined to answer questions and referred a KATU News reporter back to the general manager who admitted a guard on duty Sunday was at the Red Lion when the fire started.

Fire officials said they feel confident no one was hurt inside the destroyed hotel, although they haven't gone through all the rubble yet.

A cause for the fire is still unknown. Investigators will be at the location into the night and tomorrow trying to figure that out.

KATU News asked for a copy of the latest inspection of the Thunderbird, but it is not being released because of the ongoing investigation into what started the fire. What is known, however, is that in the last couple of years, the owners turned off the sprinkler system, which means they were required to have that 24-hour security.

Portland fire inspector Ron Rouse said one of the questions inspectors will be looking at is why the sprinkler system was allowed to be shut off in such a large wood-framed building full of furniture.

Four of the hotel's five wings collapsed, and it is estimated the blaze caused about $5 million in damage.