Church targeted in overnight arson

Another vacant home also set on fire

Medford fire officials are calling two early-morning blazes suspicious in nature, and both are being investigated as potential arsons.

Medford Fire-Rescue crews first responded to a structure fire at the Zion Lutheran Church, in the 500 block of West Fourth Street, just before 2 a.m. The fire started outside the building in a vegetation plot that had a large wooden cross in the middle.

"That whole area right in there was burning," said Medford Fire battalion chief Ken Goodson.

The fire spread from its point of origin, burning up into the rafters where there is a vaulted ceiling, fire officials said.

"It went up the front of the building and into the roof," Goodson said.

There was a full structure response to the incident, with four engines, a ladder truck and 18 firefighters. Crews had the exterior blaze under control within a few minutes, but the inside fire was more challenging, as it was in an area that was difficult to access. Crews had to utilize the help of a 35-foot ladder to attack the remaining flames.

"We were chasing it inside for probably an hour," Goodson said. "The whole church was full of smoke. There's smoke damage throughout the church."

Just after crews were wrapping up, a second structure fire was reported in the 1000 block of West Main Street. That call came in at 4:19 a.m., reporting heavy smoke and fire pouring from the back of a vacant home.

"The whole back of the house was pretty much engulfed in flames," Goodson said.

Crews responded with four engines and 14 firefighters. Officials said the blaze was under control in about 10 minutes.

"We were able to get it pretty fast, actually," Goodson said.

The two incidents remain under investigation. Tens of thousands of dollars in damage are estimated for both.

Fire officials said the agency responds to an average of 25 or so calls a day, a number that almost doubled overnight.

"We had somewhere in the vicinity of 50 calls, and a high percentage of those from 8 p.m. (on) were fire calls, so very busy," Goodson said.

County crews kept busy overnight, too. Jackson County Fire District No. 3 responded to 10 small grass fires.

"Everything was less than half an acre," said District No. 3 battalion chief Greg Winfrey, adding a majority are believed to have been started by fireworks.

Winfrey said the agency usually receives about 15 calls or so a day. That number rose to 43 overnight.

— Ryan Pfeil

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