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Fire chars auto repair shop, vehicles

American Auto customer Dereck Rollins surveyed the damage to his GMC Sonoma truck after a fire Thursday morning damaged the Medford auto repair shop and vehicles inside.

"It's toast," Rollins said, standing at the business at 943 Summit Ave., near West McAndrews Road.

He estimated the value of his 1995 truck at $4,500 to $5,000. He also lost possessions inside the truck, including work clothes.

Reported to dispatchers at 5:51 a.m., the fire started when something ignited in a pickup truck that was up on a lift. When the lift failed because of the fire, the pickup fell down onto Rollins' truck, said Medford Fire-Rescue Fire Marshal Greg Kleinberg.

A heavily burned Corvette sports car was among at least a half-dozen vehicles damaged or destroyed by the fire inside the building.

The Corvette likely suffered extensive damage because it was up on a lift and heat rises. It also had a fiberglass body, Kleinberg said.

"It was exposed to a lot more heat," he said.

Firefighters arrived at the shop at 5:57 a.m. and had the fire controlled at 6:21 a.m. Both Medford Fire-Rescue and Jackson County Fire District 3 crews fought the two-alarm blaze, Kleinberg said.

Seven fire engines and one aerial ladder truck were used on the scene, firefighters said.

The inside of the building was charred and damaged from smoke, but Kleinberg said the building didn't suffer major structural damage. Among other repairs, drywall will have to be replaced and the building may have suffered electrical system damage, he said.

The building is made of cinder blocks with exterior siding.

Firefighters did cut a hole in the corner of the roof to vent smoke and heat, Kleinberg said.

"There are a lot of combustibles like fluids and welding supplies. We could have lost the whole building," Kleinberg said, noting one of the trucks also had a propane bottle in its bed.

A drive shaft filled with compressed air exploded during the fire, he said.

Investigators late Thursday determined the fire was caused by an electrical failure in the cab of the Dodge pickup on the lift.

The visibly distraught business owner, Jerry Yowman, said American Auto is a family business that has been at the same location for 35 years.

"Customers are asking me when I'll reopen and I just don't know," he said.

The building's owner, Gordon Challstrom, said the building was insured.

Reach reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or by email at valdous@mailtribune.com.

Equipment and vehicles were charred, but the building didn't suffer major structural damage, fire officials said. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell
Medford Fire-Rescue battalion chief Rick Rohrbough, left, and chief investigator Chase Browning look over American Auto after it burned early Thursday. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell