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Handmade bomb cited as cause of I-5 fire

Medford police now believe a homemade firebomb ignited the Sunday arson fire that burned about 25 acres of grass and brush in southeast Medford, closing Interstate 5 for several hours.

Medford police Lt. Tim Doney said Tuesday that fire inspectors discovered the device in brush off the Bear Creek Greenway where the 2:50 p.m. fire ignited and eventually jumped the freeway.

"It wasn't fireworks jury-rigged," Doney said. "It was something homemade and was designed to start a fire."

Doney added that the device was not made to explode and throw shrapnel or metal, "and it's definitely not fireworks." But he declined to be more specific as police undertake their arson investigation.

"We're kind of holding our cards close to the vest now," he said.

The device will be sent to the Oregon State Police crime lab for analysis, Doney said.

The device was found about 1,000 yards south of the San George Estates Mobile Home Park on East South Stage Road, Doney said.

Gusting and shifting winds fanned initial flames from the fire, which jumped I-5 about an hour after it began. Eventually, both the interstate and Highway 99 were closed.

It took about 100 firefighters, a water-dropping helicopter and a bulldozer close to three hours to beat back the flames while nervous tenants of nearby mobile-home parks hosed down their roofs to protect against falling embers.

No one was reported injured and no evacuations were ordered, police said.

Medford fire inspectors and detectives are asking for help in identifying the person or people responsible for the blaze.

Anyone with information about the fire or about suspicious people or activity in the area Sunday afternoon was urged to telephone investigators at 774-2230.

Doney said the case falls under police's Crime Stoppers tip program through which rewards of up to $1,000 are paid for information that leads to arrests and convictions in certain local crimes.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail mfreeman@mailtribune.com.