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Firefighters defend home from wildland blaze

A wildfire tore quickly through dry grass and blackberry bushes early Friday afternoon, threatening a house off Crater Lake Avenue where nobody was home.

The fire, reported at 12:15 p.m. in the 4000 block of Crater Lake Avenue, drew 17 engines from three departments, and it grew to just under four acres. But crews were able to protect the house, and winds took the fire away from the property, where crews could corral it before it got away from them.

The Oregon Department of Forestry was first on the scene, followed by Medford Fire-Rescue and Jackson County Fire District No. 3. Crews went to work protecting the structure, which has a large yard packed with numerous cars and trucks.

David Stepp of Medford said he had been driving by when he saw the flames. He stopped to see whether anyone needed assistance.

"It had taken off so fast. It went through the fence and under about six or seven cars," he said.

Stepp said he and two other people manually pushed several cars away from the flames, because no one was home at the time. The flames damaged an outbuilding, but then moved away from the house to the east into nearby wildlands covered with dry grass and blackberries.

"By that time the flames were over 30 feet high at least," Stepp said. "It lit up the entire fence. Smoke was roaring in. We were trying to use our shirts as masks."

Fire District 3 Battalion Chief Myron Harvey said the plan of attack had to be twofold: protect the threatened house but also prevent the spread of the flames through the sun-baked vegetation.

"We were able to basically make a circle around it. We just basically flanked it on both sides," Harvey said.

The dry terrain allowed the flames to soar, and fire crews had to deal with several changes in wind direction during their knockdown efforts.

But except for the outbuilding, no significant damage was reported. Even the cars were spared, despite fire burning the grass beneath them.

"The grass was really short in that area," Harvey said. "It didn't sustain it burning."

The cause of the fire is not known, and no injuries were reported.

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

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A firefighter works to mop up a Friday grass fire at Coker Butte Road and Crater Lake Highway. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
A firefighter sprays a garage that was partially burned in a grass fire at Coker Butte Road and Crater Lake Highway. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch