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Disaster in 4 minutes

In the time it took for crews to respond to a fast-moving fire, 2 homes were lost

ASHLAND ' Neither neighbors with hoses nor a host of firefighters could stop a fast-moving blaze Tuesday from gutting two homes and threatening others in a subdivision on the city's south end.

Lynette Soli, 45, arrived home from work to find orange flames leaping from what was the roof of her home at 935 Cypress Point Loop.

Witnesses and firefighters said the three-alarm fire appeared to start just after 5 p.m. at Soli's house before spreading quickly to 941 Cypress Point Loop, the home of neighbors Charles and Patsy Christopher.

Joseph and I ran down there with hoses, said neighbor Candace Palmesano, who enlisted her teenage son's help. I pounded on her windows. It looked small at first, like we could easily put it out with hoses.

Fire personnel were on the scene within four minutes, said Ashland Fire Chief Keith Woodley.

But a four-minute response time doesn't buy you anything when you're dealing with atmospheric variables. We had a lot of factors working against us, Woodley said, citing temperatures of more than 100 degrees and lower than normal humidity.

The fires grew too quickly, spreading to the houses' attics and forcing the Christopher family to take refuge in a neighbor's yard.

There was smoke and we went out here and there were things burning, said daughter Megan Christopher, 27, sobbing. We're in shock. We were watching our house burn down.

Nearby, the family's black dog panted, his fur covered with fine ash.

Megan's father, the Rev. Charles Christopher, 56, an assistant rector at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Medford, appeared stunned as he recounted the scene.

It started in the brush next to our house and just spread, he said, shaking his head slowly.

Choking black smoke billowed from the charred rafters of collapsed roofs as 30 firefighters from 10 city, county and state agencies fought the blazes. One neighbor close to the fires perched on the peak of his own roof, garden hose in hand, while Kevin Parsons, 947 Cypress Point Loop, praised the professionals who guarded his home with torrents of water.

We were getting ready to cook dinner, Parsons said. There were lots of little pops. It sounded terrible.

No estimate of damage was immediately available, Woodley said, adding: It's going to be significant.

The Jackson County Fire Investigation Team was probing the cause of the blaze.

Neighbors helped Soli, who works at Vocational Resource Consultants, carry armloads of smoke-saturated clothing from her home to the grassy common area behind the house.

No people were injured in the fire, but Soli feared she'd lost her cat, Carley. She wasn't sure of her immediate plans.

I don't know what I'm going to do, Soli said, staring at the smoldering remains. I'm still processing.

An Ashland firefighter makes his way back to a fire engine as one of two homes in an Ashland neighborhood burns Tuesday afternoon. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell