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Fire makes a run along freeway

Medford neighbors set up sprinklers because they were worried it would jump creek

Pestered by the persistent smoke pall from distant wildfires for the past couple of weeks, Carol Dombrowsky saw flames Thursday in her Medford back yard.

Man, this is not what we need, she said.

The late-afternoon fire consumed about 5 acres in a corridor of grass, brambles and trees between Bear Creek and Interstate 5 near the Central Point interchange. The fast-moving blaze was subdued only after a helicopter called in by Oregon Department of Forestry doused it with a dozen buckets of water.

Ignited near the Bear Creek Greenway bike path, the fire was under investigation Thursday night. Medford Police Department was assisting fire investigators.

Firefighters, police and traffic control crews from numerous agencies around the county flocked to the freeway when the blaze broke out around 5 p.m. Traffic heading north was backed up for nearly two hours as it was funneled into one lane to make room for fire trucks.

Limited access to the fire frustrated crews who controlled the blaze in about an hour. An ODF bulldozer was the only vehicle that initially could reach the fire, said Kurt Bennett, a battalion chief for Medford Fire Department. Once the dozer built a ramp through the brush, an all-terrain engine converted from a military 6-by-6 truck joined in the fight, he said.

Because of its position, you couldn't see all the way around the fire ... and you couldn't drive around it, Bennett said.

Flames moved to within 80 feet of Dombrowsky's Lawnsdale Road home and several others bordering the creek, Bennett said. Residents drenched grass, gardens, and rooftops in an effort to stop the flames in case they climbed blackberry vines across the creek.

Dombrowsky worried that dried weeds just over the fence from her verdant vegetable garden could ignite easily.

It's just really a big concern because it's right next door, she said.

Leaving her workplace in east Medford around 5 p.m., Caarol Dombrowsky said she knew the fire was near her home of 24 years.

Her daughter-in-law, Move Dombrowsky, thought the house had caught fire while she was on the way there to pick tomatoes. Arriving ahead of Carol, Move set sprinklers strategically around the back yard's perimeter but worried her efforts wouldn't be enough if the fire advanced across the adjoining field.

Down the road, Dave Anderson sent his sons to the creek's bank armed with hoses. Anderson and his nephew, Adrian Cicort, watched anxiously through slats in a backyard shed while the helicopter circled overhead. The family's flock of 50 chickens huddled near the home's heat pump.

It didn't worry me much until now, Anderson said, adding that he planned on clearing out dry grass and brush from behind his home.

It never seems so imminent unless it happens to you, Cicort added.

Thirty-three firefighters with 18 engines fought the blaze. Crews were set to patrol the fire lines throughout the night, Bennett said.

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A firefighter races across scorched land Thursday afternoon between Interstate 5 and Bear Creek near Table Rock Road. The fire burned about 5 acres of grass, brambles and trees. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven