and mandy valencia
Athree-alarm fire burned through a Medford house just after midnight Friday and spread to the residence next door, where it burned through part of a room before firefighters extinguished it.
But the outcome was not as bad as firefighters feared after first being told people were still inside one of the burning buildings.
Medford Fire-Rescue said first responders were on scene within two minutes of the initial 911 call. About 30 firefighters and eight engines eventually made it to the fire, which started at 25 Willamette Ave., and spread to 29 Willamette Ave.
"We had two buildings on fire upon arrival," said Erin Sawall, Medford Fire-Rescue battalion chief.
Bill Kanehl, who lives across the street, said he heard scratching and crackling noises, which he initially assumed to be his cat scratching at the gate. When he went to let the cat in, he saw the fire's glow.
"It was going up like a Christmas tree," Kanehl said. "It was pretty scary, really."
Four engines responded to the initial call.
Officials called for more help when one of the residents told firefighters people were still inside the houses and needed assistance.
Engines responded from Jackson County Fire District No. 3 and Jackson County Fire District No. 5, along with a Mercy Flights ambulance. Medford police also responded.
"It was a whole block of fire departments and police officers," Kanehl said.
Crews eventually learned that three occupants of the house at 25 Willamette Ave. had left through the back door and got into a truck to keep warm.
"They never did think to themselves, 'Hey, I better go around to the front where everybody is,' " said Battalion Chief Rick Rohrbough.
The occupants of the second house were out of town.
Fire officials said it is important for people who escape from a burning structure to let arriving fire crews know their whereabouts as soon as possible.
"When we come loaded for bear, the first thing we're worried about is rescue," Rohrbough said.
Crews knocked down both blazes in about 25 minutes. No one was hurt.
The fire caused extensive damage to the interior of 25 Willamette Ave., and damaged an eve, outside wall and second-story bedroom at the neighboring house.
The cause of the blaze was later determined to be accidental. The fire ignited when one of the occupants using medical oxygen attempted to smoke, according to a new release. Medford Fire-Rescue reminds the public that people using medical oxygen need to take precautions.
Smoking or open flames near oxygen can be deadly. A combustible material that ordinarily would be difficult to ignite can ignite easier and burn more vigorously in an oxygen-enriched atmosphere.
Jackson County property records show 25 Willamette Ave. is owned by Edward Espinoza.