District 5 volunteer firefighter Brian Harvey cools the embers left from by an early morning fire that destroyed an Ashland couple's house. - Bob Pennell

Ashland couple escape house fire

Awakened by the sound of explosions, an elderly Ashland couple squeezed through a small open window to escape flames that engulfed their home on North Valley View Road early Tuesday morning.

The 3,600-square-foot house at 1675 North Valley View Road was 75 percent involved when firefighters arrived on the scene, said Darin Welburn, division chief with Jackson County Fire District No. 5.

The cause of the fire was unknown, though crews believe it originated in the carport where paint and wood stain were kept, Welburn said.

Homeowners John and Caroline Stranberg were sleeping in the house that sits on the grounds of Valley View Nursery, their family-owned business, when the fire broke out. Firefighters prevented the blaze from damaging any other buildings or trees on the property.

The explosions the Stranbergs heard were likely the tires of a red Saturn Vue and John Deere Gator as they burned in the carport on the north side of the home, John Stranberg said.

"I opened the bedroom door and saw an orange glow," he said. "We knew we couldn't get out through the house."

The couple, who lived in the home since 1969, had smoke detectors in the second- and first-floor hallways, but had removed the batteries because the alarms went off too easily when cooking, John Stranberg said.

"Where they were located, I don't think they'd have gone off before we woke up," he said.

Welburn stressed a functioning early alert system such as smoke detectors is crucial and that the Stranbergs are fortunate they escaped without injury.

"It's pretty miraculous," Welburn said.

Welburn said the Stranbergs couldn't break through the home's double-paned windows and had to crawl out through a small sliding window in the bedroom that was not much more than one square foot big.

"Once I got out, I couldn't get back up," Caroline Stranberg said. "Now I'm going to keep a hatchet in the bedroom so I can break out the windows."

Friends and family gathered on the scene of the fire Tuesday to comfort the distraught Stranbergs while District 5 crews finished soaking hot spots. Granddaughter Amber Longiotti, of Medford, remembered playing in the house near the window that became her grandparents' escape route.

"Even as kids we had a hard time fitting through it," Longiotti said. "It's sad to see the house like this, but it can be replaced."

Two calls reporting the fire came in from locations on Talent Avenue and near the District 5 station just before 4 a.m.

Crews from Medford, Ashland, Jackson County Fire District No. 3 and District 5 responded to the calls. Some valuables were saved from the second-story nursery office and the basement.

Reach intern Stacey Barchenger at 776-4464 or by e-mail at

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