Jackson County Fire District #3 inspector Michelle Moulin takes measurements in a fire damaged apartment on White City's Division Rd. Wednesday morning. pennell photo - Bob Pennell

Christmas Day blaze pinned on heat unit

A defective heating unit was the cause of a two-alarm fire that displaced the occupants of four White City apartments on Christmas Day.

Don Hickman, deputy fire marshal for Jackson County Fire District No. 3, had found the source of the fire in one of the Agate Village Apartments at 7770 Division Road by Wednesday morning.

"It looks like a product that created a fire, like a faulty heat pump," Hickman said. He estimated the value of the fourplex at $350,000, and property damage at around $100,000.

The residents of one of the second-story apartments reportedly turned on the thermostat around midday Tuesday, soon noticed smoke coming from the heat vents and called 9-1-1. Fire crews arrived on the scene to find a column of smoke coming from the roof and flames filling the attic.

No injuries were reported. The two upstairs apartments are not habitable because of smoke, fire and water damage, said Hickman. Though the two ground-level apartments were habitable, the residents of all four apartments were staying somewhere else.

The apartment manager said they were all staying with family members, but declined further comment.

Hickman said this time of year emergency crews see many fires started by space heaters, candles and Christmas trees.

"It's the full range of accessories that we add to our homes," he said.

American Red Cross volunteers arrived Tuesday afternoon to offer assistance. Tony Hernandez, emergency services director for the Southern Oregon chapter, said confidentiality issues prevented him from releasing specific information, but generally the agency offers families means to obtain food, clothing and shelter.

"We try to do that for several days, three or four days," he said, adding that the agency relies completely on donations.

Hickman said for a fire like this one, insurance companies typically hire an inspector to look at the appliance that started the fire to make sure there weren't recalls on it and that it was well maintained.

Reach reporter Meg Landers at 776-4481 or e-mail

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