2:55 p.m.: Smudge pots partially filled with oil at Beebe Farms helped fuel the 97-acre Central Point fire that burned from near The Expo to the edge of the Medford airport Tuesday afternoon, fire officials said.
Some of the smudge pots were still smoking today on the part of the historic farm that burned. The smudge pots are used on cold nights to prevent frost damage to fruit trees.
Robert Horton, chief of Jackson County Fire District 3, said today he had heard that smudge pots figured in the fire’s spread but didn’t know how much of an impact they made.
The fire started near the Greenway off Peninger Road and behind the Rogue Valley Family Fun Center, then spread east until firefighters stopped it at Biddle Road near the airport.
Fire crews are continuing to patrol areas that were burned, looking for hot spots that could flare up again if not monitored.
Horton said the drifting plumes of lingering smoke or the occasional flames are “not anything to be concerned about.”
Investigators are still trying to determine the exact source of the fire, gathering information from eyewitnesses, many of whom took video using their phones early on in the incident.
Central Point police asked Jackson County officials to alert residents and businesses within a 2-mile radius of the fire of a Level 3 “go” evacuation. Jackson County Emergency Management issues alerts via all landlines within an affected area. Those without landlines, however, need to sign up on the county website or by texting their ZIP code to 888777.
Sgt. Julie Denney, spokeswoman for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, said that the fire “brings to mind...the importance of citizen alerts.”
People sometimes consider the alerts necessary only if they live in rural places, she said.
Tuesday’s fire, she said, demonstrated that “when that happens in a more urban environment, we have a whole lot of people we need to notify quicker.”
Three homes were damaged in the fire, Horton said, and five outbuildings destroyed. One of those outbuildings was a garage behind a house off Hamrick Road where it meets Biddle Road.
Jazmin Quinonez Ortega and Nicholas Rogers live as renters in the house, which was unharmed. Rogers said he hosed down the house before the couple evacuated, but didn’t think of the other building.
They lost some possessions in the fire, including their two bikes, they said. A stranger picked them up and drove them away from the scene, they said.
“I thought the world was going to end, the way I seen the flames fly,” Quinonez Ortega said. "It was pretty scary."
Jackson County Sheriff’s Office detectives and Fire District 3 investigators are asking for the public's help in their efforts to determine what caused the Peninger fire, which burned 97 acres from near The Expo to just short of the Medford airport in Central Point late Tuesday afternoon.
Detectives would like to talk to anyone who may have information that will assist in the investigation, a release this morning said.
The fire was first reported at about 4 p.m.; witnesses described a column of smoke originating from the area of the Bear Creek Greenway, behind the Jackson County Expo and the Rogue Valley Family Fun Center, the release said. The wind-driven fire damaged nine structures, including three homes, and destroyed five outbuildings. No injuries to people or pets were reported.
Detectives say they would like to talk to anyone who was on or near the Bear Creek Greenway between The Expo and Pine Street from 3 to 4:15 p.m. Tuesday. They say some people may not realize they have information that could help in the investigation. The number for the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office tip line is 541-774-8333.