Police believe a string of 13 arson fires set over the last three weeks may have started with the massive inferno that leveled a former fruit-packing plant in downtown Medford on June 25.

Police believe a string of 13 arson fires set over the last three weeks may have started with the massive inferno that leveled a former fruit-packing plant in downtown Medford on June 25.

Though investigators have yet to rule the fire at 220 N. Fir St. as arson, police said there are too many similarities between it and the dozen other fires to ignore.

"Because it is so similar to the other arson cases, we can't exclude it ... at least for now," said Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau. "All of the fires are being set from the exterior of the buildings right along the alley."

Most of the fires have been set in the early-morning hours. The suspect is believed to travel by foot, Budreau said.

The 16,552-square-foot building gutted on June 25 was worth an estimated $366,000, an owner said. Investigators have determined the fire was human-caused.

If a lone serial arsonist is behind the string of suspicious fires, lighting the historic structure ablaze on North Fir Street was his most ruinous act.

But Tuesday morning's suspected arson, which sent Medford resident Barbara Lines running from her burning home, crossed another line altogether.

"It certainly ups the ante," Budreau said. "We are concerned that somebody could get hurt or killed based on (the suspect's) actions. It has changed the landscape of this."

Lines awoke at 4 a.m. Tuesday to the glow of flames and the snap of burning wood.

"I heard this pop, pop, crack," she said. "I opened my eyes and saw this light. I knew it was a fire."

Instinct took over. She ran to the front door and threw it open as two officers from Medford police prepared to kick it in. She made it out safely, as did her cat. Neighbors had seen the flames and called 911.

"I always wondered what I would do," Lines said, adding her race to the door was her only focus when she saw the fire's bright light. "You run for your life."

Medford Fire-Rescue rushed to Lines' burning home at 131 S. Grape St. with six engines and a brush fire rig. Crews arrived and sounded a second alarm after seeing large flames on the structure's back end and a nearby outbuilding adjacent to an alley. Fire inspectors believe the fire sparked to life there.

Firefighters had the blaze out in about five minutes, assisted by blasts from a fire extinguisher a responding police officer had in the car. No one was injured.

Six minutes after the initial call, crews raced to 511 S. Grape St. to quench a small fire as it burned through a box of small appliances and the corner of a detached garage.

The official causes for both remain under investigation, but the pattern is consistent with other recent fires in west Medford.

"It's in a (similar) location in the neighborhood, and the time of day, but that's all we have right now," said fire inspector Chase Browning. "We're looking at every scenario here."

A third arson fire on Tuesday was set beneath a playground slide at Washington Elementary School and was reported at about 7 a.m.

Police believe the arsonist set a garage fire on South Holly Street on July 3, six fires in alleyways over a two-hour period in the neighborhood of Holly and Grape streets on July 9, and other small fires on July 11, 12 and 14.

Medford police Detective Jim Williams said the inability to identify a suspect in the arsons is growing increasingly frustrating.

"It's getting worse and worse. Our worst fear is that we end up with an injury or a fatality," Williams said.

Police said they have upped patrols in their hunt for a suspect and are urging Medford residents to remain on the lookout for any suspicious activity. Any information about the case should be reported to Medford police Detective Tony Young at 541-774-2230.

"We need folks to be our eyes and ears right now," Budreau said.

Lines will stay with family. All are relieved she made it out unhurt.

"My aunt does stuff for everybody," Lines' nephew Cecil Baker said. "She didn't deserve this. She's the sweetest lady you ever met."

Now they are eager to have a suspect caught, hoping it's sooner than later.

"I'm hoping that this guy is not as smart as he thinks he is and has to brag about it," said Lines' son-in-law Marty Sykes.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil. Reach Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com.