Hair salon fire origin remains uncertain

A team of fire investigators that includes two engineers, a dog trained to sniff out flammable liquids and a private detective continues to dig for the cause of a blaze that destroyed the expansive Medford home and salon of Thom Martin last week.

Despite progress in finding and mapping the location of major appliances that could have caused an electrical fire, investigators say they still are far from drawing any conclusion about what sparked the fire at Mr. Thom's.

"This is day five of the investigation, but we are really no farther than we were on Friday," Medford fire inspector John Patterson said.

Investigators are asking for the public's help in the form of any photographs from the early minutes of the fire, he said.

"We want to see what was going on behind the house," Patterson said.

While news crews documented the later part of the blaze, Patterson hopes early witnesses might have snapped pictures from Voorhies Road or neighboring vineyards that will reveal the fire's early behavior. People can bring photos to the fire department office in the Lausmann Annex, 200 S. Ivy St., Medford.

On Monday two engineers from Portland came to study the potential for appliances, particularly a glass-fronted display refrigerator and other refrigerators near the back deck, to have started Thursday's fire. Martin pointed to them as a possible cause.

The team has located all major appliances in the nearly 8,000 square feet of charred debris left when the structure consisting of four homes and numerous decks and porches burned, Patterson said. It mapped the locations with photos and diagrams, looking for the telltale signs of a fire's origin.

"We need as much expertise and experience as we can get," Patterson said of the growing fire investigation team.

The team now includes two Medford fire inspectors, two Oregon State Police fire investigators, two Portland-based engineers with expertise in electrical appliances, an insurance company fire inspector and a private investigator also hired by an insurance company. A dog trained in detecting flammable liquids came from Yakima, Wash., to assist. Patterson said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms provides funding to train dogs with the requirement that they be available to help neighboring jurisdictions. Oregon currently doesn't have such a dog.

Patterson said that in every fire, investigators must proceed both as if it were an accident and as if it were arson, so no matter what they ultimately find, they will have careful documentation from the beginning to support that conclusion.

The city has posted a security guard from Action Security at the property's gate to keep people away from the potentially dangerous rubble and field dozens of daily inquiries about Mr. Thom from his clients and friends.

Martin, who was at the property Monday watering the 375 roses and other plants on the grounds so he won't lose them to the summer heat, said he has fielded hundreds of calls from people, including some he has never met but who want to help.

He said he wants to find a salon location so he can continue to serve his clients and wants to buy a recreational vehicle so he can stay on the property he has owned since 1999. A borrowed RV was expected Monday afternoon.

"I have a hard time looking at the remains of everything I had," he said, adding that he had trouble sleeping as he bounced from place to place over the weekend, wanting to be back on his property.

"I have lost everything," he said. "I don't have a razor to shave my head.

"I had a beautiful coffee pot in my bedroom so I could wake up to coffee each day and it's gone."

He said he was grateful for the help of friends and family who have given him clothes, shoes and money for necessities.

He said that while the property was insured, the $4 million figure investigators had reported was liability insurance for a planned wine tasting room.

"I didn't have that kind of insurance," he said, noting that many of his antiques and celebrity collectibles couldn't be replaced.

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

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