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Fire investigations conducted with 'open mind'

I saw your recent story about a mobile home fire in Medford and wondered if, during fire investigations, smart meters are ever considered as the cause.

— Betty H., Medford

When house fire investigations start, anything and everything is on the table, Betty.

Officials at Medford Fire-Rescue and Jackson County Fire District No. 3 are in lockstep on this. And, yes, that includes smart meters.

“The reality is, those and the old-style meters and everything else under the sun have been considered as potential causes,” said Medford Fire-Rescue Deputy Fire Marshal Steve Parks. “We go into an investigation without a preconceived notion of what we think happened or a bias. We try to just approach it with an open mind, look at the information that’s there.”

Deputy Fire Marshal Mark Northrop said investigators use the scientific process when collecting information and looking for clues.

“We collect all that data, look at that data, and then come up with a whole bunch of hypotheses. Then we test those hypotheses through deductive reasoning, and the one that stands out as the most probable is typically our fire cause,” Northrop said.

Clue-gathering missions include looking at attached utilities to determine their condition and whether they can be eliminated as a potential ignition source.

“Whenever we have electricity in a building — because as we know electricity can start fires — everything is considered as a cause,” Northrop said. “From the power poles and transformers all the way to the very end of the appliance that is plugged in near the origin of the fire. So if we had a fire, and we had a smart meter on it, the smart meter would be considered as a possible ignition source until it was ruled out through examination.”

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@rosebudmedia.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.