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A charred piece of history

Daryl Wright peers into the charred rubble that used to be his antique shop and points out several pieces he can see peeking out of the debris.

There's a Civil War-era cannon, an antique cookstove and a bell from a one-room schoolhouse in Silver Lake. Nearby, heavy construction equipment digs through the blackened concrete and wood fragments of 220 N. Fir St., an 85-year-old Medford building that burned to the ground early Wednesday.

"It was always important to me to have something that was interesting to people," Wright said. "Maybe something that wasn't necessarily for sale."

Two days after the pre-dawn blaze, fire officials were still sifting through the remains of the one-time fruit-packing plant. Fire inspector Ralph Sartain said the fire likely started outside the building on its south end, but fire officials stressed that's not confirmed. How it roared to life is still being investigated.

Lou Budge, the historic building's owner, said he had plans in motion to renovate the building before the fire broke out. The 1929 former Pinnacle plant would have made an excellent retail space, Budge said.

"It's sad. ... It was a neat old building," he said. "We're going to get the site cleared and then we'll decide what we want to do with the property."

Budge said he has insurance that will cover close to the property's last assessed value of $366,000.

Southern Oregon Historical Society officials said the building served as the Kimball Fruit Co. when it was first built at a cost of $25,000.

In the mid-1930s, it became Pinnacle Packing Co.'s No. 3 plant. Pinnacle was open through about the mid-1940s. The building was later used as a wholesale store and a feed market, Wright said.

Following a 1:46 a.m. call, 11 engines from Medford Fire-Rescue, Jackson County Fire District No. 3 and Jacksonville Fire sped to the scene while flames lit up the street and the building's roof caved in.

Crews have worked on the site off and on since then, with the stretch of Fir Street between Fourth and Fifth streets blocked off with chain link fence and caution tape until midafternoon Friday. Crews have torn down the structure's walls.

Medford police have stationed patrols there during the night to prevent looters from getting in. So far, it's been quiet.

"There haven't been any events out at the scene to report," Lt. Mike Budreau said.

Wright's antique store, Miscellany, was on the opposite side of the building from where the fire started. The rest of the 16,000-square-foot structure was used for storage but was largely empty.

Wright did not have insurance on the store but thought he would be able to pull a few items out from among the blackened timbers and clean them up. After that, he said, he may sell them, either at an upcoming local antique show or flea market.

He does not plan on opening a new shop.

"I'm not going to start over," Wright said. "Right now it's a very tough market. Everything's being devalued on a daily basis."

Wright opened the store in 1988 and said he made enough to keep the doors open over the years. He said Budge was always a reasonable and fair landlord.

"He's been very good to me," Wright said. "I couldn't have done this anywhere else."

He says all the pieces he bought and sold have their own stories. Take the Civil War cannon: A friend called him from California about four or five years ago to tell him he had found it at an auction.

"Next thing I know, he showed up with it on a trailer," Wright said.

The store was also a great meeting place for antiques enthusiasts and friends, he added. It was an environment and a location he will miss.

"It was my place," he said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil. Reporter Sam Wheeler contributed to this story.

The front wall of the 1929 former fruit-packing plant in downtown Medford is pulled down as search for the cause of the fire continues. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Bob Pennell