A Jewish community center in Southwest Portland was severely damaged in a two-alarm fire early Wednesday — the second fire there in less than a week.
According to Portland Fire & Rescue spokesperson Lt. Rich Chatman, the Chabad Center for Jewish Life was “fully engulfed” in flames as fire crews responded to the 2300 block of SW Vermont St. at about 2:44 a.m. Wednesday.
Chatman told OPB Wednesday that fire investigators have yet to label the fire as arson. But following a previous fire set at the center on Aug. 14, federal investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are now involved with the incident.
“When there’s a crime committed — especially if it’s at a place of worship — that oftentimes reaches a level when federal investigators want to be involved,” Chatman said. “They’re working in conjunction with our investigators.”
Portland Fire & Rescue suspected no foul play with the previous fire on Aug. 14, linking it to an electrical malfunction in an upstairs office area. But they have yet to come to the same conclusion with the second fire.
“The building was boarded up and clearly vacant, thus susceptible to criminal activity,” a fire bureau statement said Wednesday.
According to Chatman, the building faces “extensive damage.” Investigators are actively seeking more information from the public about the latest fire’s cause. Portland Fire & Rescue is calling on anyone with more information, pictures or video to call them at 503-823-4636.
According to Chabad of Oregon, its Torah scrolls are safe as they had been removed from the premises several months prior due to the pandemic. The Chabad Center is accepting donations to help pay for repairs.