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Barn fire may have been human-caused

The cause of a fire that tore through a barn and mottled the south Medford sky with smoke Wednesday is still unknown, but fire investigators suspect the blaze may have been human-caused.

Reported by several witnesses at about 9:35 a.m., the fire at 468 S. Stage Road destroyed a barn and haying equipment stored inside, including a restored 1967 John Deere tractor. Fire officials estimate about $50,000 in damage.

While the cause is undetermined, investigators have pinned down the origin in the middle of the barn. The blaze drew four engines from Medford Fire-Rescue, a brush rig and a water tender from Jackson County Fire District No. 5. Crews arrived to see large flames pouring off the barn and an attached 24-by-20-foot shed.

Firefighters fought the fire defensively, choosing to prevent the spread to nearby hay fields but letting the structure burn, as there was too much damage to it by the time crews arrived. Fire officials said the barn was packed with loose hay and some bales, which quickened the spread.

"It burned so intensely. There's not much left to look at," said Greg Kleinberg, fire marshal for Medford Fire-Rescue. "The large barn basically had hay throughout."

Kleinberg said possible causes include arson, a warming fire or a smoldering cigarette left behind by transients. There were reports of people trespassing on the property prior to the incident, he said. Oregon State Police is working with fire officials on the investigation. Fire officials are also considering the heat that can build up inside moist hay bales because of bacterial activity, though Kleinberg said that's unlikely because the hay was dry.

"We can't rule it out," Kleinberg said.

"What we really need is some witness information."

Anyone with information is asked to call Medford Fire-Rescue at 541-774-2300.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.