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Probe continues into house fire

The cause of a house fire Christmas Day that displaced two Jacksonville women from their home on Highway 238 and destroyed most of their belongings has been listed as undetermined, officials said Thursday.

After two days of sifting through the ruins of the single-story house in the 10700 block of Highway 238, investigators with Jackson County Fire District 9 could not pinpoint the cause nor origin of the fire.

The blaze is believed to have sparked either in the attic or on ground level in the living room, said Fire Chief Brett Fillis.

"We have a few potential causes, but we can't pick out which one," Fillis said.

No one was injured in the fire. The residents, Leah Gregory and Susan Schmidt, were not home at the time. The two-bedroom house, built in 1953, is owned by William Kropper of David, Calif.

The value of the structure, patio, detached garage and contents damaged by the fire is about $100,000, Fillis said.

The only items salvaged from the blaze were a pickup truck, washer, dryer and box of photos, which a firefighter spotted and grabbed from the burning building.

"They seemed pretty excited about finding those," Fillis said.

Neither Gregory nor Schmidt has renter's insurance. The United Way, Gregory's employer, has established the Leah Gregory Fund at the Bank of the Cascades to help Gregory and Schmidt replace lost household items.

"I heard the news on Christmas right before going to bed, and it was hard to lie down in my nice comfy bed and go to sleep," said Dee Anne Everson, United Way executive director. "We love our work at the United Way. We are just not used to doing for someone we're so close to."

A man feeding his cows more than a mile away from the house spotted the flames and alerted fire crews Tuesday afternoon.

The house had been burning for 30 to 45 minutes before anyone noticed it and called 9-1-1, Fillis said.

Call Paris Achen at 776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.