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Staff save customers' cars from fire

Thanks to a quick response by three local agencies, damage from a Thursday afternoon fire at Anderson Auto Body & Paint near Ashland was kept to a portion of the paint bay.

Within 25 minutes of the first 911 call at 1:23 p.m., crews from Jackson County Fire District 5, Ashland Fire & Rescue and Medford Fire-Rescue knocked down a blaze that started in the paint bay of the body shop, located in the 1300 block of Highway 99, some four yards outside Ashland city limits, according to Ashland division chief Chris Chambers. Fire District 5 chief Charles Hanley said estimated damage to the shop's structure and contents will total $100,000.

Resources between the three agencies brought four engines, one water tender, one heavy rescue vehicle and four chief officers and an ambulance, according to Hanley. Ashland police directed traffic along Highway 99. The fire reduced traffic to one lane between about 1:30 and 2:30 p.m.

Three crews arriving on the first alarm may have prevented a grass fire, according to Chambers, who usually leads Ashland's forestry division. When the first crew arrived on scene at 1:29 p.m., flames escaping from an exhaust vent through the roof nearly spread to overgrown brush on a neighbor's property. Despite the flames and large plumes of smoke seen from the roof, the fire never spread to the roof or attic.

"It gave us a great result," Chambers said.

A technician was about to respray a Toyota Prius in the shop when a rag caught fire, according to Anderson employee Brian LeBlanc, who works as an estimator and marketing manager. The technician thought he'd snuffed out the small fire, but staff quickly evacuated after flames spread and smoke filled the building. No injuries were reported.

"You get to a certain age — it was time to get out," LeBlanc said.

Hanley said static electricity caused the rag to ignite. More specifically, the fire was officially caused when a "Buildup of static electricity ignited flammable gases and ignited nearby combustibles."

It was a fluke," LeBlanc said.

Once the technicians saw the fire wasn't spreading, LeBlanc said, staff saved six vehicles in various stages of repair at the shop. LeBlanc said he remembered "a lot of running," grabbing customer keys and helping staff get customers' cars out of the building. The blue Prius near the fire's origin was among first removed. None suffered any heat damage.

"It felt right," LeBlanc said. "Nobody's car got damaged."

The fire did minimal damage to the building itself, so bodywork on vehicles will be able to resume right away, according to LeBlanc. For paintwork, LeBlanc said he intends to reach out to other shops to take care of customer orders at Anderson.

"We have such a great community, I'm sure we'll get the help we need," LeBlanc said.

A Wednesday Cave Junction fire illustrates how quickly the body shop fire could have gotten out of hand. That wildfire closed Redwood Highway for about four hours while crews — including some from Medford — battled a 10-acre blaze that ultimately destroyed 200 vehicles at a nearby auto dismantling yard.

— Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.


Smoke billows from Anderson Auto Body & Paint after a rag caught fire in the paint bay.
Firefighters work on the roof of Anderson Auto Body and Paint in Ashland on Thursday. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]