House fire in Medford 'incendiary'

Firefighters work on the remains of a fire in a vacant house on Stewart Avenue Tuesday morning.Jamie Lusch

Smoke choked the intersection of Dixie Lane and Stewart Avenue as fire crews fought an apparent arson fire Tuesday morning in an abandoned house — the ninth in a string of arsons in west Medford stretching back to April 2012.

"We believe it's incendiary in nature," said Karl Giepel, fire investigator for Medford Fire-Rescue, adding that power and gas had been turned off to the house.

The fire, at 1638 Stewart Ave., drew four engines from Medford Fire-Rescue, an engine from Jackson County Fire District No. 3 and 23 firefighters, acting Medford fire chief Gordon Sletmoe said.

Neighborhood resident Kimberly Walch had been preparing to turn onto Stewart Avenue from Dixie Lane when she saw the smoke coming from the house, which has been abandoned for about two years. She called 911.

Josh Ostrowski, who also saw the blaze in the early stages, said he initially thought it was a chimney fire.

"I investigated further, and I noticed it was coming out of all sides of the house," Ostrowski said.

Fire crews arrived on scene at 8:06 a.m. Police blocked off the intersections at Columbus and Stewart avenues and Dixie Lane and Stewart Avenue.

"The fire trucks came rolling up, and I directed them to it," Ostrowski said.

After discovering a fire burning in the attic, firefighters cut a hole in the rear of the building, allowing smoke to vent and pour onto the street.

"It started coming toward us," Walch said.

It was a challenge to keep the blaze under control, Sletmoe added, explaining the attic in the single-story house was almost as large as a full story, with a steep roof.

"A lot of this fire was up in the attic space, and it's a very large attic," he said.

Sletmoe said it looked like a new roof had been built over an old roof, creating more nooks and crannies where the fire could spread and reignite.

As crews fought the fire from above and below, flames spit from the structure's eaves numerous times, even after water and foam seemed to have extinguished them.

"All of a sudden it gets a breath of fresh air and it grows again," Sletmoe said.

Other suspected arsons in vacant houses in west Medford have occurred on West 11th Street, Thomas Road, Ivy Street, West Main Street, South Columbus Avenue and Stewart Avenue.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or

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