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Medford family escapes morning house fire

A Medford woman and her two teenagers escaped a house fire that ripped through one bedroom and caused significant heat and smoke damage throughout a home in the 1200 block of Niantic Street early Tuesday, Medford fire officials said.

An improperly discarded cigarette sparked the fire, which the woman noticed while it was still small, Medford fire inspector John Patterson said.

Tracy Halsey Queen, 49 and disabled by a slew of chronic conditions including asthma, arthritis, diabetes and heart disease, said she awakened to find flames fueled in jets from an oxygen generator that helps her breathe.

"I screamed to the kids and tried to put out the fire," she said, explaining that she started to beat back flames with a towel.

Her 13-year-old daughter Mystique Queen, sleeping in the room with her, scrambled for water, then called 9-1-1, Halsey Queen said. Her 15-year-old son, Paul, also tried to put out the fire, but the blaze grew too quickly.

She credited her children with dragging her out of the house to safety before she even had time to wrap up in a blanket. A cat that was sleeping on the bed is missing and presumed dead.

Firefighters got the call about the fire at 4:28 a.m. and made their way through heavy fog that limited visibility, fire officials said. When the first fire engine and crew from the station near Railroad Park arrived at 4:35 a.m., the fire had spread through about a third of the 1,000-square-foot residence, Medford Fire Department battalion chief Mark Burns said in a news release Tuesday.

Crews gained control of the blaze in less than five minutes, then spent about an hour ensuring that no smoldering embers remained and the structure was safe, he reported.

In all, four engines with crews, a battalion chief and investigator responded to the fire, officials said. Medford police helped with traffic control and provided blankets for the family while they waited.

Patterson estimated the damage to the home and possessions inside will total $75,000 to $80,000. The extreme heat melted a computer, oxygen generator and even the smoke detector in rooms that didn't burn, he said.

The owner of the house has insurance, but the family living there was renting and didn't have renter's insurance, Patterson said. The Red Cross stepped in to help with their immediate needs.

Patterson noted that fire insurance, including inexpensive renter's insurance, can provide vital protection for possessions and ease the process of rebuilding lives after a fire.

Halsey Queen said she and the two teenagers are staying with her adult daughter for now. She said her medication was destroyed in the blaze, along with clothing and other possessions.

"We lost everything," she said. "I'm just in shock."

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.