Joshua Polcek grabs family photos as he collects belongings to store in a neighbor’s building on Friday. His apartment at 59 Bramhall St. in Portland caught fire early Friday morning and Polcek and 10 other tenants in the building are now displaced. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Joshua Polcek did not think much of the knocking on his door around 4:30 a.m. Friday. He assumed the disturbance was just a prankster or one of the homeless people who occasionally made their way into the nine-unit apartment building where Polcek had lived for the past eight years.

Only after he heard a neighbor tell someone to dial 911 did he realize something was seriously wrong. He opened his door and said he was engulfed in a billowing cloud of “thick, dark, acrid smoke.”

“First thing I think?” Polcek remembers. “I’m homeless.”

Polcek and the 10 to 15 other tenants of 59 Bramhall St. in Portland’s West End were displaced from their home Friday morning after a two-alarm fire rendered the building uninhabitable.

No residents or firefighters were injured in the blaze. Investigators have determined the fire was accidental, but Portland Fire spokesperson Sean Donaghue would not comment on the cause. The department confirmed that at least one pet died.

A fire at 59 Bramhall St. in Portland early Friday morning has been ruled accidental. The Red Cross is helping 11 displaced tenants. Courtesy Portland Fire Department

Twelve first responders reached the scene within four minutes and found flames coming from multiple top-floor windows of the building. Within about 15 minutes, they had put out the bulk of the fire.


The quick response allowed the firefighters to limit the spread of the fire to the third-floor apartment where it started, Donaghue said. But even though units like Polcek’s were spared from the fire, the resulting smoke and water damage have rendered them at least temporarily unlivable.


Piles of wet soot lined the stairs and hallway to Polcek’s apartment late Friday morning. He started sorting through his possessions to determine what he could easily grab and store with a neighbor: his college diploma, a photo of his grandparents, the ashes of his dog Lucy. Things too big to move before his landlords closed the building later on Friday would be lost, he said.

A man cleans up outside an apartment building at 59 Bramhall St. in Portland on Friday. The building caught fire early Friday morning and 11 tenants in the building are now displaced. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Brad Marin, the building’s property manager, declined to discuss the fire or how BJB Realty was supporting the displaced tenants.

The building was up to code and possessed the required safety measures like working smoke detectors in each unit, Donaghue said. But as an older building, it was not required to have certain safety features that are required for some new builds, like sprinkler systems and alarms that go off throughout the building when smoke is detected in a single unit.

“If that building were built today, code would require it to be built differently,” he said, adding that was true of many old buildings around Portland that nonetheless meet the city’s safety requirements.


Red Cross volunteers have begun assisting 11 displaced tenants from six of the building’s units, said Red Cross spokesperson Jennifer Costa. Volunteers are currently working to contact about four more residents, who were not on-site immediately after the fire.

One woman, who lives near the building and declined to give her name, said she was pleased to see Red Cross volunteers helping the displaced tenants. As a former Red Cross volunteer herself, she said she was confident the organization would help support her neighbors through the next few days as they look for a new place to live.

“They’ll make it as easy as it can possibly be for people,” she said.

The organization provides resources like toiletries, health services and financial assistance that displaced tenants can use to buy new clothes or pay for a hotel during the first 72 hours after a disaster, Costa said. After that transition period, volunteers will help connect victims with local resources that provide longer-term support.

Joshua Polcek walks up the stairs to his apartment at 59 Bramhall Street in Portland after a fire Friday morning. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

But Polcek, who is physically disabled and suffers from several mental health issues, including PTSD, anxiety and depression, feared he wouldn’t immediately manage to find another place to live in a notoriously difficult housing market. He said he planned on heading to the local library to search for an apartment on Craigslist.

“My head’s so spinning that I don’t know what to do first,” he said. “I’ve been homeless before, and I’m not looking forward to it again.”

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