One of Portland’s most dubious landmarks, the old Kmart on Northeast Sandy Boulevard, caught fire this morning, sending a plume of acrid black smoke into the sky above the Argay Terrace neighborhood and dropping Frisbee-sized pieces of burned insulation on nearby apartment complexes.
The fire began sometime in the early morning. Portland Fire & Rescue responded at 6:30 am, sending a total of 90 firefighters from Portland and Gresham to the graffiti-covered building at the corner of Northeast 122nd Avenue, said fire spokesman Rick Graves.
The blaze was mostly out by 9 am, with fire crews using boom-supported hoses to douse flare-ups inside the gutted building.
“We’ll be sitting on this one until tomorrow,” Graves said. The cause of the blaze hasn’t been determined, he added.
At around 10 am, a piece of debris floated eastward and sparked a fire in the dog park at Hidden Oaks, a nearby apartment complex, said Argay Terrace resident Sharon Chin. A Hidden Oaks resident put the fire out with a bucket, she said. “There’s no one here monitoring it,” Chin said.
The vast parking lot around the dilapidated Kmart was the site of a far-right festival in August 2021 that turned into a brawl with anti-fascists, fought with paintball guns and baseball bats. More recently, residents of Argay Terrance, including Chin, have been fighting to stop Prologis, a San Francisco-based shipping company, from building a freight warehouse on the site. The property is owned by a limited liability company controlled by New Jersey real estate developer Zygmunt Wilf, who also owns the Minnesota Vikings football team.
Argay residents say the warehouse would bring more diesel-spewing trucks into a neighborhood that’s already plagued by them. Increased traffic would also endanger students at nearby schools, including Parkrose High, just across Northeast 122nd Avenue.
A spokesman for Garden Homes, Wilf’s New Jersey-based real estate company, had no comment on the fire.
Johnny McCarthy, maintenance man at the nearby Stonehurst Apartments, said the conflagration started around 6 am.
“It started going up in flames, and then there were a couple big booms,” McCarthy said. “I believe it was a gas line, but I’m not sure.”
Portland Fire had the old Kmart on its list of possible disasters to come, Graves, the fire spokesman, said. The site was challenging, he pointed out, because the hydrants serving the site are far from the building, across the acres of asphalt parking lot. Firefighters had to daisy-chain trucks and hoses to summon enough pressure to feed the soaring booms that arched over the building, spraying straight down into the flames, he said.
“It’s just an odd situation here,” Graves said.