Survivor speaks out one year after deadly NE Portland apartment fire

Monday marks one year since a fire destroyed a northeast Portland complex, killing three people and leaving dozens displaced.
Published: Jul. 4, 2022 at 5:54 AM PDT
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PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV) - Monday marks one year since a fire destroyed a northeast Portland complex, killing three people and leaving dozens displaced.

Around 3:30 a.m., on July 4, 2021, a fire engulfed the Heidi Manor Apartments. Roommates Seth Thompson and Robert William Gremillion, both 31, died in the fire. Thompson’s girlfriend, 25-year-old Kelsi Edmonds, was seriously injured and died in the hospital three months later.

Beatriz Santiago-Perez and her family were living at the apartment complex when it caught fire.

“It was a really stressful day to realize that your home is gone and having nothing but what you have on,” said Santiago-Perez. “It was hard. No one should have to go through that because it’s really traumatizing. Now that the Fourth is coming up, I feel really stressed out with the fireworks. Certain smells already kind of trigger me. So I am not looking forward to this one year.”

Santiago-Perez says her uncle, who also lived at the complex, came and banged on their front door to tell them to get out as the fire spread.

“If he had not woken up, we wouldn’t have made it out alive,” Santiago-Perez said. “I am thankful every single day that he had woken up.”

A friend started a GoFundMe to help the family get back on their feet after they lost everything in the fire. It had a goal of $12,000 and ended up with over $22,000 in donations.

“I felt so much love,” said Santiago-Perez. “It was overwhelming. I didn’t know what to do. I just felt so supported by the people around me. How they helped me out in my time of struggle made it easier to want to keep pushing forward and not wanting to give up during that really hard time.”

With the donations, Santiago-Perez’s family was able to move into a new home just a few blocks from where Heidi Manor once stood.

“I still walk past it here and there,” said Santiago-Perez. “I look at it and I think to myself that used to be my home.”

A firework thrown in a dumpster was determined to be the cause of the fire, according to investigators. A ban on fireworks for personal use was in place in Portland. This year, Portland Fire & Rescue are again asking residents to not set fireworks off. Despite the ban, firefighters have still seen several fireworks-related calls over the last few days.

“I hope they understand after the tragedy last year why we feel it’s important to ban the personal use of fireworks in the city of Portland,” said Terry Foster, PIO for Portland Fire & Rescue. “Last couple of days haven’t been terrible, but we have seen an uptick in fires. Today we had a fire on Marine Drive that was started by a teen playing with fireworks.”

Foster urges residents to forego personal fireworks and opt to attend one of several professional fireworks shows throughout the area.

Santiago-Perez says she plans on going to a memorial for the apartment complex fire victims on Monday and urges everyone to be careful this Fourth of July.

“I’m planning on going back to the Heidi Manor tree to just take a moment of silence for those who lost their lives,” said Santiago-Perez. “They were innocent lives that were not able to make it out alive. I’m just very grateful that I am here today.”

Authorities say the fire is still under investigation and no suspects have been named at this time.