Fire officials say an 'electrical failure' was the cause of a blaze that tore through the Marie Callender's Restaurant & Bakery last Saturday. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell

Marie Callender's fire started in attic

Fire officials say an electrical component failure was the cause of a blaze that tore through the Marie Callender's Restaurant & Bakery Dec. 14 and reduced the building to blackened timbers.

The fire was reported just after 3 a.m. at 1528 Biddle Road in Medford. The blaze began in the attic space above the office area, officials said.

Ralph Sartain, fire inspector for Medford Fire-Rescue, said electrical components had failed, but that electricity continued to run to the area, overheating the site until it caught fire and flames spread through the building.

"The electricity doesn't know to stop," Sartain said of the failed components. "The electricity's going to keep going, and it doesn't have a chance to dissipate."

Investigators determined the cause after days of digging through the rubble.

The fire caused about $2 million in damage to the building and contents.

Fire officials said the building was constructed in 1984 and was not protected with an automatic sprinkler system. Marie Callender's opened in 1993, but the building housed the Wild Plum restaurant in the years before.

Current building codes require restaurants with occupancy capacity of 100 patrons or more to have sprinklers, Sartain said.

"For awhile it was based on square footage. Now it's based on occupant load," he said.

If the building had been constructed under current code, sprinklers would have been required in the attic space and main restaurant area, he added.

"If the restaurant was built today, it would be required by code to be protected with an automatic sprinkler system, which most likely would have suppressed the fire, and the business would be open after a short cleanup period," Medford Fire-Rescue said in a release.

Crews from Medford Fire-Rescue and Jackson County Fire District No. 3 arrived on scene to see the building fully engulfed in flames and half the roof collapsed. Responders called for a second alarm, bringing additional crews from neighboring jurisdictions, including Jacksonville. No one was injured during firefighting efforts.

The blaze displaced the restaurant's 30 or so employees, but other Medford cafes and restaurants responded with quick job offers, restaurant officials have said. The restaurant is expected to reopen, though an exact timeline has not been set.

Officials at J&A Food Service Inc., the Marie Callender's parent company that also owns Applebee's and Burger King, did not return phone calls for additional comment.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at

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