Oily rags burst into flames, torch attic

A fire roared through an attic in a Central Point house Saturday night after rags soaked in linseed oil burst into flames from spontaneous combustion, Fire District No. 3 officials determined.

Kara and Ken Laws and their three children escaped without injury.

"Every room except the kitchen was damaged," said Kara Laws. "We're just glad we're safe."

Dennis Jordan, acting battalion chief for Fire District No. 3, said he estimates damage at roughly $50,000 to $60,000 to the house at 931 Rose Valley Drive.

He said the entire attic was on fire and the ceiling had to be pulled down to make sure hot spots were doused.

The call came in at 9:19 p.m. and the first unit was on the scene by 9:26 p.m. The fire was under control within 35 minutes, Jordan said.

The Lawses had spent the afternoon staining a fence with linseed oil, discarding two rags into a cardboard box next to the house.

Jordan said the rags inside the box ignited through spontaneous combustion. "Linseed oil is horrible for that," he said. Rags soaked with linseed oil can be neutralized by soaking them in water.

The flames went up the wall, then snaked through vents into the attic where the fire raged out of control.

Jordan said the smoke detectors wouldn't have gone off because the smoke was outside the living area.

Kara Laws said she and her two boys were watching television, while her husband was next door and her 3-year-old daughter was asleep.

"I just heard a cracking sound," said the Central Point school teacher. "I could see this orange glow from the outside."

Her phones didn't work, so she cried out to her husband.

After everyone got out of the house, Ken Laws and a neighbor turned on garden hoses while they waited for the fire engines to arrive.

"The Fire Department was awesome," she said. "They saved everything."

Furniture and other items were covered in all the rooms to prevent damage from water, Laws said.

The Laws have insurance on their house and are living with relatives nearby.

Laws said she was surprised to learn the rags had caught fire, but now she knows how dangerous they can be.

"It says right on the can what you're supposed to do," she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

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