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Fire kills 2 children

The Medford 4-year-olds were playing in a backyard shed that burned down

Two 4-year-olds died Wednesday afternoon in Medford when they were playing in a shed that caught fire.

Police and firefighters had not determined a cause for the fire, which erupted in the back yard of a foster-care home for the elderly on North Keene Way Drive near Spring Street.

The fire, reported at 2:19 p.m., appears to be accidental, police said.

Chanel Mei Viray and her cousin, Anthony Richard Oden-Viray, were thought to be missing at first.

The grandmother was screaming, and we found out that she was missing the two, said Ken Goodson, a battalion chief for Medford Fire Department.

We had hoped that when the fire started, they had run off, frightened, said Medford police Lt. Mike Moran.

But firefighters found the two cousins dead in the back of the shed shortly after the fire was out. Firefighters extinguished the blaze in 10 minutes.

Anthony and Chanel were dropped off after preschool at the adult foster care home run by their grandparents, Mar and Thelma Viray, Moran said. Anthony's parents, Jerson, 27, and 24-year-old Theresa Viray, were working, Moran said. They also operate a foster home for the elderly on Roberts Road, he added.

Chanel's father, 28-year-old Jenrico Viray, of White City, was applying for a job. Her mother, 21-year-old Stella Viray, was working.

Mar Viray told police that he was making lunch for his grandchildren while they were playing in the back yard. The children were not supposed to be playing in the shed, although they had a little fort back there, police said. Hearing a loud pop, Mar Viray looked out the kitchen window to see smoke billowing out of the back yard, Moran added.

Jim Herndon also saw the smoke as he was driving by on his way home from work. Herndon stopped, dashed inside and tried to keep Thelma Viray from running out the back door toward the flames, he said. With the help of Shawn Raynor, who lives around the corner, Herndon carried three elderly women and one man out of the house in wheelchairs and armchairs.

Emergency crews arrived to an extended family of more than 20 people anxiously waiting for news of the children. The Virays, originally from the Philippines, called other Filipino relatives and friends who live in the Rogue Valley.

I don't know what happened, said Nora Navarro, Thelma Viray's sister. They just call me to say, 'Come help us.'

Friends showed up with their children in tow to find out if there was anything they could do. Later they shared the family's grief.

Once investigators found the children's bodies, which had been partially buried in debris, they led the Virays into the back yard to hear the news.

Sobbing, Jerson Viray, Anthony's father, leaned against a tree for support.

Seeing the family's reaction, Herndon phoned another neighbor to call off a search organized when he heard the children were missing.

That sucks, man, Herndon said.

Yeah, it does, Raynor replied.

A few feet away, Rosario Weeks squatted behind a shrub with her cell phone in hand, shaking as she relayed the tragedy. When Chanel's father, Jenrico Viray, showed up about an hour after the fire, Weeks held him as he collapsed onto a neighbor's driveway.

Bolstered by the Medford Police Department's chaplain, Bob Gass, detectives quietly led the family away to answer questions. The Jackson County medical examiner removed the children's bodies from the shed.

I don't know why it catch fire because there's no gas or electric hookup back there, said Ed DeCastro, a friend of the Virays.

Investigators said they saw no obvious source for the fire. Detached from the house, the shed reportedly was filled with furniture, appliances, rolls of carpet, plywood and lumber. Fiberglass used in the shed's construction may have created the thick, black smoke visible from across town, Moran said.

The fire did not damage the Virays' home. Its elderly residents were lodged temporarily with the assistance of Rogue Valley Council of Governments' Senior and Disabled Services.

The specific cause of the children's death was unknown Wednesday.

The case was referred to the Jackson County district attorney's office. However, the cause of fire does not appear to be suspicious, investigators said.

There's absolutely no indication that this is anything other than a tragic accident, Moran said.

Friend Rosario Weeks comforts Jenrico Viray, 28, of White City, who just learned that his 4-year-old daughter was killed in a Medford fire Wednesday. Chanel Mei Viray?s 4-year-old cousin, Anthony Richard Oden-Viray of Medford, also died in the fire. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven