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A firefighter works his way through a wooded area behind Phoenix High School Thursday. A brush fire threatened nearby structures. - Jim Craven

Grass fire threatens homes

A small grass fire in a field just south of Medford caused a stir Thursday night as fire crews rushed to protect homes along Houston Road.

Fire investigators are working to determine what sparked the blaze, which was reported just after 8 p.m.

"When we first heard it on dispatch we thought it was not going to turn out to be much," said Medford fire Battalion Chief Larry Sills. "But as it grew and came closer to some homes we sent several units to the scene."

The flames caught a few trees and moved quickly through brush before fire crews could surround it. Sills estimated the burned area to be between two and five acres.

"There was a slight breeze that pushed the fire a little bit toward some homes on Houston Road," Sills said.

Crews had difficulty accessing the burn site because of canals dug into the field and fences cutting through the area, Sills said.

Fire engines from across the Rogue Valley arrived at the scene and staged around various residential areas surrounding the field. They held their ground until nearly 10 p.m. when it became clear the fire was under control.

Jackson County sheriff's deputies blocked off Houston Road as onlookers flooded the area. Homeowners throughout north Phoenix took to the roofs of their homes to catch a glimpse of the flames.

The heavy fuel sent a large black cloud of smoke high above south Medford. The smoke drifted across Highway 99 in certain spots forcing drivers to slow down because of lowered visibility.

The Oregon Department of Forestry hauled in a bulldozer in case it became necessary to dig a trench around the fire in an effort to keep it from spreading further.

Sills said fire crews would remain at the scene throughout the night monitoring potential hot sports that could flare up. The clean-up could continue late into today, he said.

"You can't be too careful in a grass fire such as this," Sills said. "We don't want to be back out here again."

Medford fire was assisted at the scene by crews from Jackson County Fire District No. 5. Jackson County Fire District No. 3 covered emergency calls in Medford while their crews attended the scene.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

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