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Portland squatters took over an abandoned bar. It just went up in flames

Dozens of Portland firefighters battled a blaze at a former tavern that neighbors say had been taken over by squatters for more than a year.

“It was clearly a time bomb waiting to go off, and our concerns fell through the cracks,” Dusty McCord, who lives near the former Farmer’s Barn Tavern, told The Oregonian. “The level of negligence is breathtaking.”

Flames pour out of an abandoned tavern in Portland, Oregon

Portland Fire & Rescue responded to a fire at the former Farmer’s Barn Tavern April 19, 2023. (Portland Fire & Rescue)

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McCord said squatters at the building had physically attacked neighbors, threatened people with guns and cut down trees to build fires. The property owners filed a demolition permit in February, the newspaper reported, but were still waiting for city approval.

The fire started around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and flames were already pouring out of the roof by the time crews arrived, according to Portland Fire & Rescue. Firefighters started to search the building but had to retreat as the fire grew, and utility companies were forced to temporarily shut off power in the area.

Around 40 firefighters were on scene at one point to contain the fire.

There were no reported injuries, and the fire did not spread to any neighboring homes or buildings. Firefighters are investigating the cause.

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Firefighters are well acquainted with the tavern, which closed in 2018, having responded to eight fires there within the past year, PF&R wrote in a press release.

A red square with a reflective white “U” on the side of the building signifies that the building is on the fire department’s unsafe list due to structural concerns.

“There has been a history of in and out usage of that location,” Rick Graves of PF&R told KOIN 6 News. “Portland Fire is constantly addressing some of these abandoned buildings.”

Oregon’s homeless population has steadily increased since 2014, despite the state and local governments directing hundreds of millions of dollars toward the problem.

There have been seven code enforcement cases at the former tavern in the last four years, and neighbors told The Oregonian they had filed another nuisance complaint against the building just a couple of days before the fire.

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“For about the last 18 months, the building has been a complete nuisance with squatters, campers,” Eric Marentette, who lives near the property, told KOIN 6. “There’s been a lot of theft.”

At least five abandoned buildings have been the site of serious fires this year in Portland.

“I think the city needs to figure out better ways to deal with this before it comes to this result,” Marentette said. “I don’t think the city seems equipped to deal with it until they’re embarrassed [when] a city council meeting or news organizations take them to task.”

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