A Medford firefighter shoots water into the attic from a hole cut into the roof. - Bob Pennell

Cause of fire still unknown

MEDFORD — Justin Gunn did all he could to battle the fire chewing through the back half of his home Thursday afternoon, but in the end the flames won.

Fire investigators are working to determine what started the blaze that tore through Gunn's home on Tripp Street.

Witnesses said the fire moved quickly through the two-story house, sending a thick column of smoke high above the east Medford neighborhood.

Gunn was visiting his mother just down the street and saw smoke creeping from the home while walking back.

"I was gone for only 10 minutes," Gunn said. "It's amazing how fast it moved."

Gunn rushed into the house and grabbed his phone to call 9-1-1. He then filled a cup with water from the kitchen sink and attempted to douse the flames.

At first, it seemed manageable, but when the flames crawled up the wall and pushed into the second story, Gunn knew it was time to flee to safety.

"If I would have had a hose, I could have maybe done something about it," Gunn said.

Five Medford Fire Department engines and 20 firefighters arrived within minutes and doused the roof with their hoses.

Meanwhile, Gunn's young son, clutching his Pekinese mix, wandered around the front yard as his house burned.

Neighbor Dave Ghertler saw the boy was distressed and walked him to his home to calm him down.

"I saw he was scared, so I took him away for a while," Ghertler said.

Jamie Ball, who lives at the house with Gunn, fled the home before the flames took over. Firefighters rescued her Himalayan cat, Daisy, and placed the feline in Ball's arms.

Firefighters scaled the home with ladders to cut ventilation holes in the roof. At one point, a firefighter used a skateboard to smash open a top-story window, said Tom Williamson, who captured the action on his digital camera.

"When he threw that skateboard through, it really went up," Williamson said.

Lisa Evans, who lives across the street from the burning house, suddenly found her home invaded by smoke when the wind shifted.

Evans marveled at how the firefighters managed to keep the blaze from spreading throughout the entire house.

"I can't believe that house lasted through this," Evans said. "It sent a huge black cloud of smoke that chased us down the street."

The house was built in an era when architects gave little thought to fire protection, said Medford fire inspector John Patterson.

"Newer homes have fire blocking in the eaves and rafters," Patterson said. "This one has wide-open spaces where the fire can move to other areas. It makes it tricky, because when you push in one area the fire heads somewhere else."

Firefighters circled the house with infrared cameras searching for hot spots hidden in the walls.

"The last thing we want to do is bring all our guys home and get called back later," Patterson said.

Gunn speculated that a dishwasher in the back of the home near the door might have caused the fire. Other appliances had been tripping circuit breakers in recent months, he said.

Patterson planned to work well into the evening to determine the cause. At one point, a firefighter placed police tape around a gasoline jug found in the backyard.

Medford police closed Tripp Street while the firefighters battled the blaze. The road was reopened at about 4 p.m.

Gunn was frustrated that he couldn't do more to fight the flames, but he was glad everyone left the house unhurt. He rents the home from a landlord who lives in California. He did not know if he had renter's insurance.

Gunn plans to stay with family who live in the area, he said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail

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