A fire investigator walks past a swimming pool and near the charred shell of Mr. Thom’s on Friday. The salon and inn were destroyed by fire Thursday. - Jim Craven

Officials search for fire's cause

Fire, police and insurance investigators set to work Friday studying the ruins of Mr. Thom's, a prominent salon, home and inn on South Stage Road, searching for the cause of a massive blaze that ripped through the amalgamation of historic houses the day before.

Investigators encircled the property, which they called a crime scene, with yards of yellow tape restricting access and said they expect to spend some time determining exactly what happened.

"We're gearing up the investigation," said Brian Fish, Medford Fire Department battalion chief. "It's going to be a long, drawn-out process."

Friday morning, Medford Fire Department, Oregon State Police and insurance investigators began sorting through the charred debris, and a Jackson County deputy district attorney was on scene.

"I try to go out on all large-scale fires to offer assistance when needed," said Tim Barnack, senior deputy district attorney. "My presence at the fire does not assume that arson is involved."

At any fire of undetermined origin, authorities must consider the potential for criminal activity and routinely protect the scene to preserve evidence, Fish said.

"We're trying to cover our bases and do it right from the beginning," he said.

Fish recalled another fire at the property in December 1999 that destroyed a house that owner Thom Martin had moved there with plans to incorporate it into the cluster of homes united into a single structure.

In addition to the two fires, Martin has endured a steady stream of financial challenges over the years. Jackson County Circuit Court records show numerous small claims cases — including one that landed on "Judge Judy" in 2007 — as well as several other civil claims and two civil foreclosures involving Martin. The only open case against him is a suit by Shady Cove businessman Ron Boehm seeking the repayment of $100,000 loaned to Martin at 9 percent interest for labor and materials to develop his property, court records said. Boehm filed the suit in 2006 and it is set to go to trial July 31.

Martin bought the South Stage property in 1999 and moved four historic homes to the site to create a 5,962-square-foot fantasia stuffed with antiques and memorabilia from his career styling celebrities across the country.

County records list the real market value of the property at $930,110. Investigators said the home was insured for $4 million.

On Thursday, firefighters pulled a few pieces of furniture from the salon and the decks and porches that surrounded the building, but couldn't salvage much.

Martin reportedly was at the home to check his possessions, get a vehicle and talk with investigators Friday, but the Mail Tribune was unable to locate him for comment.

Investigators interviewed Martin, his receptionist and two clients who were at the salon when the fire broke out Thursday afternoon. Fish said they hoped to narrow down where the fire started, so they can focus their efforts on finding the source there.

The fire is believed to have sparked on the backside of the rambling home, possibly near the pool.

By combining information from interviews and photographs, investigators hope to limit the amount of rubble they must sift through for evidence.

The building's unconventional construction, electrical and natural gas service also must be considered, Fish said.

A fire truck remained on scene Friday to handle any hot spots in the mounds of debris. A scorched field behind the building was flooded with irrigation water Thursday night to drown any lingering embers, Fish said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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