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Investigator faces big task

The burned-out warehouse building contains masses of debris to be sorted

No cause was uncovered Thursday for Tuesday's massive fire that surged through an old warehouse on Front Street.

The former packing plant was deemed safe enough for an investigator from Medford Fire Department to enter, but little progress was made.

The task is huge to remove the debris, said Dan Petersen, battalion chief for Medford Fire Department.

Before anyone could go inside the warehouse, walls were removed on the northernmost portion of the three-sectioned building that spans nearly a city block on Front Street. The fire is suspected to have started in that area, Petersen said. The brick building, which faces south, was partially demolished, Petersen said.

Two tanks that were dangling from the roof also had to be taken down, Petersen said. More than 2,000 pounds of anhydrous ammonia was pumped out of the tanks Wednesday, and they were moved to a safer spot outside the building.

The ammonia was used in a cooling system for the former fruit packing house. Although police warned onlookers Tuesday night that they could be killed if the tanks released an ammonia cloud, no one was in serious danger, said Mark Burns, chief of Medford Fire Department's hazardous materials team. The intense heat of the blaze would have burned up the ammonia if the tanks caught fire, he said.

Demolition on the warehouse is expected to continue for several days. Four Medford firefighters on Thursday helped demolition crews douse spots that were still smoldering more than 36 hours after the blaze erupted. About 85 firefighters from Jackson and Josephine counties were called to the six-alarm fire at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Two firefighters were scheduled to baby-sit the building throughout the night, Petersen said. Investigators would renew their search for clues in the morning, he said.

The fire's cause is being called suspicious. Medford police detectives were interviewing residents of the neighborhood and tracking down anyone who was in the area when the fire broke out, said Medford police Lt. Mike Moran. No suspects had been named, he said.

Demolition crews went to work Thursday at the burned-out former cold storage warehouse on Front and 11th streets in Medford. Walls had to be knocked down to make the buildings' remains safe enough for investigators. Click the photo to see a larger (32k) version. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven