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Grass and house fires keep firefighters busy Thursday

Medford Fire-Rescue was at the scene of two grass fires that temporarily closed freeway traffic Thursday evening when it suddenly had to run to a two-alarm structure fire at the other end of the city.

That fire, reported at 8:43 p.m. in the 2000 block of Merriman Road, came while multiple engines were still near the U.S. Cellular Community Park softball fields when the call came.

“It really spread everybody thin,” said Battalion Chief Jason John.

Jackson County Fire District No. 3 and the Jacksonville Fire Department sent engines to the structure fire to aid Medford Fire-Rescue.

The blaze, reported as a tree fire, turned out to be a fire burning involving two neighboring houses on Merriman Road.

“Multiple calls stating there was an explosion in the area, and then there was fire seen from the back of these two houses,” John said.

Six engines roared to the scene. All occupants made it out of both houses without injury. The fire was knocked down by about 9:20 p.m. The extent of the damage was not immediately available, and the cause remained under investigation.

The grass fires were reported at 7:14 p.m. near milepost 26 near the southbound lanes of Interstate 5. One fire burned in the freeway median, the other on the shoulder, creeping into thicker brush and trees, John said.

The Oregon Department of Transportation closed the southbound lanes at exit 27 at about 7:30 p.m. Traffic detoured to Highway 99 and was allowed to get back on I-5 at exit 24 in Phoenix, ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming said. Crews had to wait to attack the median fire until the detour was in place.

“We’re not going to Frogger across I-5 when we’ve still got traffic running through,” John said, referring to a video game where players take on the role of a frog running across a busy road.

Medford crews responded with three fire engines, three brush rigs and a water tender. They split into two teams, some firefighters assigned to the shoulder blaze, with others assigned to the median.

At 7:28 p.m., Jackson County Fire District No. 5 crews responded to a report of a grass fire on I-5 near milepost 21, but officials said Friday that no fire was found.

Firefighters had the upper hand by about 7:50 p.m., with the southbound fast lane of I-5 reopening at about 8:12 p.m., ODOT reported. All lanes reopened by 9:26 p.m. The brush fires burned about 5 acres. The cause remained under investigation.

Medford firefighters also put out a house fire at 2:22 p.m. Thursday in the 1000 block of West Eleventh Street, dispatch records show. Crews found heavy smoke spewing from bedroom windows and were able to knock the fire down in about 10 minutes, according to an agency Facebook post. The cause of that fire also remained under investigation.

“It was a busy day yesterday,” John said.

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