PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A suspect is in custody for arson after the historic Portland Korean Church burned on Tuesday night.
Portland Fire and Rescue says the suspect — identified as 27-year-old Cameron David Storer who also identifies as Nicolette Fait, per the Fire Investigations Unit — was arrested and faces charges of first and second-degree arson and second-degree burglary. They are expected in court Thursday afternoon.
The church is set to be demolished Thursday morning. Worries that the wreckage could topple over have crews moving up plans to tear it down.
More than 24 hours later, the area remains closed as crews monitor the Portland Korean Church before its planned demolition but when it comes to a cause, it’s still difficult to determine since the building is unsafe for first responders to enter.
“It’s a darn shame that something this precious is gone,” said neighbor Rebecca Morgan, who watched as the church burned on Tuesday.
The church, built at SW 10th and Clay nearly 120 years ago, sat empty in recent years and was boarded up and locked at the time of the fire. KOIN 6 News attempted to reach the owner of the church to find out why it wasn’t in use but did not hear back.
With the flames finally out, investigators are now working to find the cause but with a history of fires at the church, the building is deemed unsafe for firefighters to go inside. Instead, investigators are using a drone to explore the charred wreckage.
“They flew it in there and determined that one of the columns that holds up the entire steeple feature is completely burned out so there is a concern that with the wind and the structural compromise that there could be some collapse prior to demolition,” said Rick Graves with Portland Fire & Rescue.
Because of the growing potential for it to collapse, the city accelerated plans to demolish the church on Thursday.
“The attempt is to have the steeple come inward on the building so it doesn’t hit the elevated lines of the streetcar as well as the neighboring house to the east,” said Graves.
When the fire first broke out, KOIN 6 learned it also impacted a neighboring home that sits only about 10-12 feet away from the church. Firefighters had to tear out some of the wall and ceiling to make sure the fire didn’t spread inside.
“There is exterior damage with char as a result of the fire itself, and then some internal damage as a result of the firefighters investigating the spaces behind the wall,” said Graves.
The homeowner, who spoke to us off camera, says the home was rented out to tenants and some of them were inside at the time the church caught on fire. She says that while everyone is safe, it’ll be some time before they’re able to return beyond grabbing essentials.
As for the crews keeping a perimeter around the church and immediate area, Portland Fire says they are all personnel from the fire marshal’s office in order to free up frontline crews for emergencies that come in.
According to PFR, there was attempted contact made to hire a private security company to aid in perimeter protection, after reports of people going around or jumping the existing roadblocks, but they’re unaware if the contact was established.
There is not a set time yet for the demolition of the church Thursday morning but firefighters are asking people to avoid the area and don’t come down to watch. Traffic and the Portland Streetcar service will continue to be impacted until it is over.