Jackson County Fire District No. 3 investigator Michelle Foss surveys the interior of a manufactured home that burned Friday morning south of Gold Hill. - Bob Pennell

Couple escape fire with their lives

Acouple in their 70s lost everything but each other in a fire early Friday morning that destroyed their house south of Gold Hill.

A smoke alarm awakened Betty Benton, 71, who smelled smoke and discovered sparks falling from the ceiling near a woodstove in the couple's doublewide mobile home along the 6400 block of Kentucky Drive.

She woke her husband, George Benton, 73. The couple escaped wearing only their pajamas and reported the fire at 12:30 a.m., said Jackson County Fire District No. 3 Deputy Fire Marshal Don Hickman.

A neighbor passing by offered George Benton a coat while he and his wife watched their home burn and waited for fire crews to arrive.

Firefighters arrived within 15 minutes and reported flames 40 feet high.

Hickman said firefighters responded with a fire truck containing 750 gallons of water, an additional 3,500-gallon tender and called for a second water tender from a Medford agency.

The trucks shuttled water up narrow roads to the fire, which crews battled from outside, Hickman said.

The American Red Cross provided three days' lodging in addition to clothing and food vouchers for the couple, who were unavailable for an interview.

Red Cross volunteer caseworker Phil Gonzalez said the couple lost everything, including their shoes, wallets and identification.

"The husband had his license number memorized, which we needed to open the case," Gonzalez said, noting that the Bentons were insured and hope to return to the six-acre property on which they have lived for years.

For now, they'll focus on finding a place to stay and are in need of clothes.

"The gentleman said to me, 'What are we supposed to do after three days?' " Gonzalez said.

No pets were lost in the fire, but Betty Benton lost a stuffed animal collection dating back more than 30 years. Several outbuildings and a barn remain on the property and firefighters salvaged some rifles and a pistol for George Benton.

The roof of the mobile home was completely burned away. Hickman praised the couple for having a smoke alarm and for "getting out and staying out."

"Mobile homes can go up pretty quick," Hickman said.

"It's tragic in one sense, because it's a total loss, but fortunate in another because they got out safely and didn't go back inside."

The Bentons' home was the fourth chimney-related fire in recent months in the district.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at

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