PENDLETON — Fire erupted Sunday in a Pendleton downtown thrift store, gutting the business and threatening others.
Greg Dixson opened We Sell Stuff in 2015 at 342 S.W. First St. On Sunday, he watched from the corner of Southwest First and Emigrant Avenue as black smoke billowed from the building and firefighters attacked the blaze. He said he knew the cause of the fire — “Electrical short behind my desk.”
Dixson revealed surveillance footage from inside the store showing a bright flash on a wall and flames.
He said he and a crew were moving inventory from a storage unit and stopped into Denny’s for breakfast.
“We were just leaving when we got the call the place was on fire,” Dixson said.
Pendleton assistant fire chief Shawn Penninger said a 911 caller at 1 p.m. reported seeing smoke drift out of the building. Pendleton Fire and Ambulance Services arrived moments later to find not only billowing smoke but a man hanging from a second story window next to the air conditioner.
“The first arriving crew put up a ladder and took him out,” Penninger said.
He also said the dangling man declined medical help and took off, and his identity remains a mystery.
Dixson had said no one was in the building at the time, but he learned about the stranger from Penninger, who also reported the Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office received a complaint on Aug. 29 about people possibly living in the building.
Dixson said the second story had an apartment, but he insisted no one lived there. Yet, he also said he had a night watchman on duty.
Witnesses reported seeing flames leaping from the building roof. Pendleton Fire and Ambulance Services led the attack, and crews from Umatilla Tribal Fire Department, East Umatilla Rural Fire Protection District, Pilot Rock Fire District and Umatilla County Fire District 1 helped quench the flames. Firefighters shot water through empty front window frames and took to two ladder trucks to cover the fire from high above.
Firefighters contained the blaze to the one building, but the effort continued well past 4 p.m. Penninger explained that was due to collapse of the roof, which shielded hot spots underneath.
Beyond We Sell Stuff, Penninger said there's minimal smoke and water damage to some of the surrounding buildings. He added he would hand off the fire investigation to the Oregon State Fire Marshal.
Dixson, 68, said the business was the lone source of income for he and his two teen children. He said he recently took out a $25,000 line of credit to pay off $24,800 in debt, and he put up their home as collateral. He estimated the store’s inventory at around $200,000, but he didn’t have insurance.
“We were just starting to where we were making a profit,” he said, and insurance was in the plans for next year.
He still has the moving van, he said, a couple of sheds worth of inventory, and a good relationship with the building's owner, Henry Lorenzen.
"He's the greatest guy in the world," he said. "I'll never find a landlord as good as him."
Still, Dixson said, he has no choice but to try and start over.
Contacted by phone, Lorenzen said he was in Portland Sunday and had been receiving reports from people in Pendleton.
He estimated the building has been in the family for more than 100 years and was sorry to see the building go. He also expressed sympathy for Dixson and said he would try to pick up the pieces when he returned to town Monday.
This is a breaking news story, and the East Oregonian will update with more information as soon as possible.