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MailTribune.com
  • Police have first description of arsonist

    A stack of wooden crates ignited Thursday was the latest in as many as 19 arson fires in Medford over the past month
  • It's been a month since a rash of intentional fires began appearing in Medford, including four more fires set Wednesday and Thursday, but police may finally have received their first description of a suspect.
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  • It's been a month since a rash of intentional fires began appearing in Medford, including four more fires set Wednesday and Thursday, but police may finally have received their first description of a suspect.
    At 8:55 p.m. Wednesday, a witness reported seeing a man crouching down in the 400 block of South Fir Street where a small fire sprang up. The man fled, but police said he is a white male, 5-feet-11, with a thin build and shoulder-length hair. He was wearing a dark beanie, brown T-shirt and dark jeans. A small blaze roared up as he left but did not spread.
    "No real damage, but it was an intentional set," said Medford Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Rick Rohrbough. "We're not even sure it meets the same MO."
    At 3:33 a.m. Thursday, another fire was reported. That one ripped through a pile of fruit crates and spit 30-foot flames into the predawn sky. The fire was set in a fenced-off storage yard near South Fir and Monroe streets, just across the street from the Tree Top plant. The blaze was originally reported as a grass fire, but crews quickly upgraded their response to a structure fire when they approached the scene and saw the large flames waving in the air.
    "En route we noticed that it was actually pear (crates) that were burning," said Brian Farber, Medford Fire-Rescue captain.
    Firefighters attacked the flames from Fir Street and from across a set of train tracks on the opposite side.
    "It was well-involved. It looked like a structure (fire) until we got in between and we noticed we had two cold storage buildings on either side," Farber said.
    It took about 20 minutes to get the fire under control, Farber said, but by then it had burned through dozens of the stacked, wooden crates. A damage estimate was not available. No one was injured, and the fire did not spread to any structures.
    At 7:50 a.m. Thursday, crews and police responded to the 200 block of South Holly Street for some smoldering bushes.
    At 8:04 a.m., a tree fire was reported in Hawthorne Park.
    Medford police believe the arson spree, which includes 19 suspicious fires, started June 25 with a warehouse fire that leveled a historic fruit-packing plant and home to Miscellany Antiques at 220 N. Fir St. Since then, numerous fires have been set in nearby alleys, often near fences, in debris piles and by outbuildings. Most of the blazes were extinguished before they were able to do much damage. One fire, reported July 15 at a house in the 100 block of South Grape Street, woke the sole occupant and forced her to run for her life.
    If the four most recent fires were set by the same individual, the perpetrator may be getting less cautious, investigators said.
    "Some are similar, some are not," Budreau said of the fires. "I mean, the ones here in Hawthorne Park don't really fit the whole alley MO description, but it's unlikely that we have multiple arsonists that are working the area. We're just keeping our minds open right now. We really need to catch this person."
    Investigators said it can be difficult to ascertain motives involving arson. Most crimes involve a link between a perpetrator and a victim, making suspects easier to identify. With arson, it's different. Arsonists seldom know their victims, typically keep quiet about their work and usually run solo.
    "The psychology is difficult, because we don't catch a lot of these folks," Budreau said. "They're internally motivated. There's something about them that causes them to seek pleasure from lighting fires. Mental illness is usually associated with it. They don't talk about it because others really don't understand."
    Because of the number of incidents over the past month, firefighters almost expect to discover an arson when they respond to a fire call, Farber said.
    "At this point, yeah, that's kind of what our radar's up on, absolutely," he said.
    Police encourage Medford residents to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity and report it to authorities immediately.
    "We're asking people to pay attention to their surroundings," Budreau said. "Look around. If you see anybody in the area, take a second look at them. See if they're acting suspicious. Call us, keep an eye on them. We really need the public's help on these cases."
    Any information about the case should be reported to Medford police Detective Tony Young at 541-774-2230.
    Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.
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