Investigators suspect the fire that destroyed a vacant Oregon State University experiment station in southwest Medford late Wednesday morning was human caused.
Fire investigator Samantha Metheny said Wednesday afternoon that all utilities to the building and the surrounding structures had been shut off several years ago, leading her to believe that the fire was caused by a person. However, the investigation is ongoing.
The building was part of a multistructure station located in a dry, 22-acre field near the intersection of Kings Highway and South Stage Road.
OSU abandoned the station in the '90s, tore down the surrounding pear orchards and, last week, put the property on the market, said Philip VanBuskirk, director of the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center. The property was listed for $960,000.
The fire was reported at 11:26 a.m., and Medford Fire-Rescue crews arrived to find the one structure fully involved, said Battalion Chief Tom McGowan.
"With current conditions the way they are, our immediate concern was the surrounding area," McGowan said.
Although the building was engulfed in flames, crews "got a good knockdown," he said. Some flames spread to grass and brush, but were quickly stopped.
About 16 firefighters helped to battle the blaze using two brush rigs, three engines and one tender. Because of the remote location of the structure, crews had to lay down about 1,800 feet of hose to reach the nearest fire hydrant, which had the capacity to pump between 1,000 and 1,500 gallons of water per minute.
"We already had a reduced water source plus we had an extended hose lay, which resulted in a lower volume at the nozzle," Metheny said.
The building was a total loss, but "probably wasn't worth much because it was old and abandoned," VanBuskirk said.
A small crew of firefighters remained on the scene late into the day to monitor hot spots that continued to flare up in the basement, making the building unsafe for investigators to enter.
Although the abandoned buildings were boarded up years ago, neighbors said transients and young kids frequently hang out there.
Dan Kirkland, who lives nearby, said he's been chasing "mischievous people" off the property for the past 40 -plus years, back when it was a pear orchard and his sons would light the smudge pots.
"I'm kind of like the warden around here," he said. "Kids come down here with their (four-wheelers) to run through the mud every once in a while, and there's been drug parties. But it's pretty well contained now that kids know the old man on the street will go out there and chase them away."
Kirkland said neighbors told him they saw some young people hanging around the station early on Wednesday.
"There are (no-) trespassing signs all over the place, but it doesn't matter," VanBuskirk said. "Old buildings like that are just a problem for people."