When Matt Sullivan’s neighbor emerged from the small space Sullivan had pried open at the bottom of a garage door, attached to a burning house, the man was covered in soot with burned hands.
“There were some pretty bad burns on his hands, probably up his forearms a little bit, too,” Sullivan said, standing in the driveway of his home, next to the still smoking remains of his neighbor’s house.
Camas-Washougal Fire Chief Nick Swinhart said that if it weren’t for Sullivan’s actions, the neighbor likely would have died.
Officials have not identified the victim. A spokesperson at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland said the man was in serious condition late Friday afternoon.
Camas-Washougal firefighters were dispatched at 4:17 a.m. Friday to a report of a structure fully engulfed in flames in the 2100 block of 37th Street in Washougal. The home is actually located on 38th Court.
Swinhart said the fire appeared to have been spreading for some time when the first crew arrived.
“That’s typical for fires in the middle of the night. No one is around to notice them until they’ve been burning for a while,” Swinhart said. “We’re unsure how long it had been going.”
Firefighters employed a defensive strategy — dousing the home with water from the outside and not entering the building — due to the severity of the fire, and they moved to protect surrounding homes, none of which were damaged, according to the fire chief.
There was a single occupant in the home when the fire started. He “was rescued by a neighbor who saw the flames and pulled the victim out of the garage door,” the fire department said in a news release.
Sullivan said his wife woke him up in the middle of the night because she heard what sounded like heavy rain. He said she turned off the fan and noticed a bright glow coming from next door.
She called 911. Sullivan rushed over to the house and started pounding on his neighbor’s front door. When no one answered, he broke the window by the door and shouted inside. There was no response.
“At that point, the house was filled with smoke. You couldn’t see anything,” Sullivan said.
He moved to the garage door and once again started pounding. His neighbor, in a calm voice, said he was inside.
Sullivan tried entering the code on the keypad by the garage door, but nothing happened. The door was already likely damaged; fire was coming out of the eaves of the house above the garage.
Sullivan said he punched the garage door until it was bent enough to put his hand under the bottom and pry it up. He could not kick the door, he said, because he ran over without shoes on. His neighbor crawled out caked in black powder.
“He was real calm, not panicked at all. I think maybe he didn’t realize he was injured,” Sullivan said.
The man was ushered to another neighbor’s home, where he was examined by medics who then decided to take him to the hospital, according to Sullivan.
Swinhart said the man, whose name was not released, was taken to the hospital with severe burns. Additional details about his condition were unavailable.
The house was completely destroyed by fire, officials said.
Camas-Washougal firefighters were assisted by East County Fire and Rescue and the Vancouver Fire Department.
The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Camas-Washougal fire marshal. A firefighter at the scene later Friday said investigators would return through the weekend. He said a point of origin will likely be difficult to find because the fire destroyed nearly everything.