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Tree knocks over power pole, sparks fire Monday near Central Point

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A fire ignited on a mobile home’s roof late Monday night after part of a tree fell onto a power pole and spilled live lines across multiple structures, Jackson County Fire District No. 3 officials said.

The tree portion dropped just before 11:30 p.m. at a mobile home park in the 10000 block of Blackwell Road, caving in part of a roof on one of the units, and startling the male occupant awake, said Battalion Chief Will Clelland.

"The power line actually hit three houses. The oak tree only hit one,” Clelland said. “When it did that, it collapsed the ceiling in the back bedroom.”

“He woke up to the loud crash and the ceiling basically on top of him in bed,” Clelland added. “He got out of bed, and immediately there was fire in the collapsed debris.”

The occupant was able to exit the unit safely. The tree had been slated for removal prior to the incident, Clelland said.

Fire District 3 crews responded to the blaze at about 11:30 p.m. The initial report was of a power line striking a home after being struck by a falling tree, but was upgraded to a structure fire.

Four engines, a mix of units from District 3 and Medford Fire-Rescue, responded to the scene, Clelland said.

“(We) got on scene to find the power lines live on the roof, just kind of smoking and sparking,” Clelland said. “And then within a minute or two (they) had spread inside that trailer, and the back bedroom was fully involved.”

Firefighters initially were uncertain about what the fallen lines had energized. Electrical crews were nearby dealing with a separate issue and responded to the scene to shut off power to the affected power pole, but some doubt persisted afterward.

"Usually, they like to isolate power on both sides of wherever it’s down,” Clelland said. “In this case, they couldn’t do that, because there wasn’t another transformer in the back of the mobile home park, just the one leading into it. And they’re not able to 100% ensure that the power’s actually isolated. If anybody had an improperly installed generator or had illegally tapped into the power downstream, beyond where they shut it off, then that home would be what they call ‘back feeding’ into the system. And it’s, of course, unlikely, but still possible.”

Firefighters had been combating the flames from the home’s exterior, but they needed to get closer to gain the upper hand. There were also the other two homes to consider.

“We just reassessed the risk, made the decision to go interior on that house and put it out,” Clelland said.

Firefighters had the flames knocked down about five minutes after making entry. More pieces of the tree fell while crews were on scene, Clelland added, one piece causing damage to a car port. No injuries were reported.

Such collapses are more common during hotter weather, such as the Rogue Valley’s recent spate of triple digit temperatures. Trees can become stressed during attempts to suck up more water because of the heat, Rogue Valley arborist Richard Weed said.

“We usually see more trees falling in August,” Weed said. "But we’re having longer durations of warmer weather, hotter weather. So we’re seeing it earlier, like right now.“

Despite it being past midnight when firefighters started to make progress, some leftover heat from the Rogue Valley’s simmering Monday stuck around. An Oregon Department of Transportation temperature sensor in the Central Point area recorded 82 degrees at 11:30 p.m. and 81 degrees at midnight, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Miles Bliss.

“It’s been very busy in the last two days,” Clelland said. “The crews, in general, are just running a lot of calls. So managing their fatigue is critical.”

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanpfeil.