Torch was the culprit in 1988 hotel fire

"What was the cause of the fire in the Medford Hotel in 1986? Also, wasn't there another hotel in town over on Front Street?"

— Mary Ann Johnson,

via email

We put on one of those old miner's headlamps and rode a coal car down into the Mail Tribune's archives to uncover a brittle, yellowing clip that told us the Medford Hotel fire was caused by an acetylene torch, a fact uncovered during a two-week investigation by the Medford Fire Department.

According to the final investigation, sparks from a workman's cutting torch hit a pile of basement insulation and ignited it. Workers extinguished the small blaze, but it flared up again and burned the hotel to the ground.

It took nearly 2 million gallons of water to extinguish the blaze — enough to fill up 11 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The workers had been gutting the building, which was slated to become a low-income housing project backed by a Boston firm.

The building first opened as a hotel Sept. 19, 1911, and had an approximate value of $1.8 million when it caught fire.

Also, Mary Ann, the fire happened in 1988, not 1986. Want an easy way to remember that? Just think 8-8-88, as the fire happened Aug. 8, 1988.

As to the Front Street hotel question, the answer is yes. The building at 104 E. Main St., near the Front Street intersection, was first known as the Nash Hotel. Owner Elwell Nash opened it for business in 1894.

The building went through a variety of changes over the years, serving as the home for the Allen Hotel, Robinson's Men's Store and Prestige Plaza.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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