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Pacific Pride fire out but questions remain

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Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune A portion of South Central Avenue was closed in the wake of a Tuesday night gas station fire that destroyed multiple businesses.
Medford Public Works crews reopened North Riverside Avenue at Barnett Road Wednesday, but South Central Avenue remained closed from East 13th Street to East Barnett Road as of midday Wednesday. [City of Medford map]
Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Southern Oregon Printing & Copy was among multiple Medford businesses taken out in a fire that started at a Carson Pacific Pride commercial fueling station Tuesday night and spread rapidly to nearby structures.
Official seek to pinpoint cause of blaze that destroyed seven businesses

Emergency personnel and city officials are working to determine the exact cause of a fast-moving, fuel-fed fire in Medford that destroyed several buildings Tuesday night and diverted traffic from a heavily traveled part of town.

Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said Wednesday that his department, along with fire officials, were investigating the origin of the fire, which was first reported to have started as an illegal warming fire.

Arson, he said, had not been ruled out.

Medford Emergency Management, as well as police and fire officials, said four buildings, housing seven businesses, were destroyed in the fire that began at the Carson Pacific Pride commercial fueling station in the 900 block of South Central Avenue before quickly spreading north.

At a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Chief Eric Thompson said the Medford Fire Department would continue to watch the fire zone to ensure there are no more flare-ups.

After spending the night fighting the fire — which shot flames into the air and down oil-slicked streets overnight — firefighters declared the blaze out Wednesday morning, Thompson said.

No one in the immediate vicinity, including emergency personnel, was known to have been injured by the fire. At one point, a woman had to be rescued from a building that was under threat of fire, officials said.

City officials said during the Wednesday press conference that while the surrounding area wasn’t evacuated, people in properties adjacent to the fire zone were notified about the situation.

At least four commercial buildings in Medford were destroyed Tuesday night by a fire that broke at Pacific Pride and quickly spread north. Medford Fire Department photo

The blaze was reported at 9:39 p.m. Tuesday, and the first fire personnel arrived within eight minutes.

Because the Pacific Pride commercial fueling station contained large amounts of gasoline, diesel and other petroleum products in above- and below-ground tanks, the Medford Fire Department quickly escalated the fire to a third alarm, according to a morning update by the department.

The origin was thought to have been behind the business and near the railroad tracks that run through area. Within about 15 minutes, fire had spread to buildings north of Pacific Pride along Central Avenue.

It moved very quickly, and “conditions continued to escalate,” Thompson explained.

The third alarm drew resources from six nearby fire departments, including two ladder trucks and 10 fire engines. A strike team came from Josephine County to assist local efforts. Fifty firefighters worked the blaze at the peak of the firefight.

The fueling site had four elevated containers that resemble silos, each holding 18,000 gallons of fuel, including diesel and kerosene. Inside a building at the location were 88 55-gallon drums of gear oil.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune A Medford Fire Department ladder truck works a fire Wednesday morning that broke out at the Carson Pacific Pride Tuesday night.

Carson, the Portland-based company that operated the Medford Pacific Pride station, hired Fire Strike Environmental, a contractor out of Roseburg, to conduct a hazardous materials assessment of the site and lead the hazardous materials cleanup, according to a news release from the city of Medford.

The fire “caused safety and environmental risks,” city officials said.

At one point Tuesday night, a fire suppressant used at the airport, known as Aqueous Film Forming Foam, was used to fight the fuel-fed fire.

As the fuel and buildings burned, thick black smoke billowed into the sky. The smoke produced during fuel fires like this one “is very dangerous,” Thompson said.

Oil leaking from the site flowed into adjacent storm drains and made its way to Bear Creek. City crews placed booms across the creek and moved earth in an effort to stop — or at least sharply curtail — the flow. At least 100 gallons of oil flowed into the creek, officials said, but a thorough analysis of the situation will follow.

South Central Avenue from East 13th Street to East Barnett Road will remain closed as the investigation continues and clean-up operations begin. Work will continue to remove oil and any other dangerous materials as well as assess impacts to infrastructure, which includes the roads and storm drains.

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Fire crews worked through a steady rain late Tuesday and into Wednesday to suppress the fire, which blocked traffic on a heavily traveled road.

As of Wednesday night, North Riverside Avenue was open to traffic, but South Central Avenue remained closed.

Keeping Central Avenue closed will help keep any hazardous materials from being spread from the fire area, said John Vial, the city’s public works director, and Aaron Ott, the city’s emergency management coordinator.

Police and fire officials stressed that the area was closed because it remained unsafe.

Utility crews were working at the scene Wednesday, and the city contacted the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for analysis of the situation.

Medford City Manager Brian Sjothun said the city was working to help businesses affected by the fire, referring them to places where they could access resources and support.

The fire took out multiple businesses in the 900 block of South Central Avenue, including Southern Oregon Printing & Copy and Sky High Smoke ‘N Accessories. (Corrected)

Sky High posted on Facebook Wednesday that it intends to rebuild. Its location at 2101 W. Main St., in west Medford, remained open.

La Clinica’s Birch Grove Health Center, 910 S. Central Ave., was closed Wednesday due to the fire. The blaze damaged landscaping outside the health center and singed a sign, according to La Clinica spokeswoman Julie Wurth.

Wurth said medical staff who normally work at Birch Grove focused on video visits Wednesday. For the next couple of weeks, the clinic’s staff will be rerouted to Central Point and west Medford. Wurth said they hope to reopen Birch Grove “sometime around the first of the month.”

Another La Clinica building — a former call center used by the nonprofit for storing furniture and equipment at 916 S. Central Ave. — was heavily damaged by the fire.

“We believe that one is pretty much gone,” Wurth said.

The city said that a homeless shelter will be open Thursday.

The police department asked anyone who may have information about the fire to call them at 541-770-4783, and reference case No. 22-6203.

Correction, April 14: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Affordable Battery Solutions was among the businesses destroyed in the Pacific Pride fire. The store was not destroyed in the fire, and its sister business AJ Electric Wheelchair Repair are still operating at their new location at 844 S. Riverside Ave. in Medford.