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Crystal paperweight focused sun's rays to cause car fire

A crystal paperweight in just the right position concentrated the sun's rays and started a small fire inside a parked car Wednesday in Medford. 

The fire started at 2:37 p.m. in the north Fred Meyer parking lot at 2424 Highway 62. Passers-by reported seeing smoke fill up the interior of a 2009 Honda Civic hybrid, according to Medford Fire-Rescue.

Capt. Sean Schmidt said crews upgraded to a structure fire response, because they thought the vehicle was parked close to the department store. Firefighters first on scene saw it was not and turned all other responding units around. 

Smoke billowed out when firefighters opened the unoccupied vehicle, but no flames erupted, officials said.

Random items on the dashboard — including hand towels and hair barrettes — were smoldering, as was a portion of the dashboard itself. Crews found a crystal half-sphere paperweight on the dashboard that was so hot it couldn't be handled without gloves, fire officials said.

Fire crews quickly figured out what had happened.

"(It was) just like a magnifying glass. We were able to recreate it," Schmidt said.

Officials estimate the fire caused about $500 in damage. Schmidt said these types of fires are unusual. He hasn't responded to a similar incident, though a colleague said he had seen a crystal cause similar damage. On that emergency call, fire crews found a crystal hung in a window had concentrated sunlight on a bookshelf.

"As the sun moved through the sky, it actually did etching, like a wood-burning line down the side of the bookshelf until it hit a stack of newspapers," Schmidt said. 

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