Medford garage becomes 14th in series of arsons

A fire that scorched about half of the detached garage next to a vacant Medford house late Monday in the 400 block of South Peach Street is the latest in a string of 14 arsons targeting vacant west Medford properties, police said.The blaze was reported at 10:08 p.m. and four Medford Fire-Rescue engines responded and were on scene by 10:11 p.m."They saw flames coming up above the (garage's) roofline," said Battalion Chief Brian Fish.Crews were worried the fire might spread to the house, about six feet away. Flames shot out the garage's side door toward an attic vent that could have allowed the fire into the upper level of the house.But crews knocked the fire down in about five minutes before it could spread into the main structure, Fish said.The fire caused an estimated $5,000 in damage, Fish said. No one was hurt.Fish said the previous occupants had left some garbage in the garage, much of which had been charred by the flames."(They'd) just kind of left remnants of stuff," Fish said. "It wasn't a hoarders kind of deal."Investigators on Tuesday night were called to a fire reported at another vacant home in west Medford. This fire was sparked in blackberry bushes behind a decrepit home at 210 Jeanette Avenue, off West Main Street.Medford Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Ken Goodson said this blaze did not match the pattern established by the previous arsons, but an investigation would be in order.Medford police Chief Tim George suspects the Jeanette Avenue fire could be the work of the arsonist."You have a vacant house in this neighborhood, so it's understandable to suspect that (the arsonist) was at it again," George said.The first confirmed arson in the string of west Medford incidents was reported on Jan. 12, 2012, at 1479 Orchard Home Drive. Additional arsons have been reported on Maple Park Drive, West 11th Street, Thomas Road, Edgemont Street, West Jackson Street, Main Street, Columbus Avenue, Ross Lane, Stewart Avenue, West Fourth Street and Prune Street.Arsons also have been reported at 612 S. Ivy St., Medford Zion Lutheran Church at 516 W. Fourth St., and Barney's Burgers on North Riverside Avenue, but those are believed to have been separate incidents not tied to the serial suspect."We're trying to categorize them by the MO, to try and isolate the ones we believe this person is responsible for," said Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau.The investigation has so far yielded little."We don't have an image, we don't have a description, we don't have a criminal profile per se," Budreau said. "At this point we are just doing the same thing. So far it's been a very, very frustrating investigation. This guy is able to strike all hours of the day, all days of the week."The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is offering a $2,500 reward for information that leads to an arrest. The federal agency has been working with Medford police since the Zion Lutheran fire and also has offered assistance on the serial arsons, Budreau said.Crime Stoppers of Southern Oregon will also pay up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest. Callers can remain anonymous. Anyone with information should contact Medford police at 541-774-2230 and ask for Det. Jim Williams.Fire and police officials encourage residents to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity."Keep an eye out," Fish said.Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com.
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