A fast-moving fire charged through 97 acres and burned nine structures in Central Point late Tuesday afternoon, forcing scores of people to flee their homes and businesses as the flames marched east from near The Expo past Costco and toward the Medford airport.
At least two senior living facilities, a veterinary clinic, Sonic Drive-In, multiple hotels and gas stations were evacuated as police cleared a two-mile radius in advance of the wind-driven, three-alarm fire.
The fire was first reported at 3:56 p.m. Tuesday, said Jackson County Fire District 3 Chief Robert Horton.
“As fast as this fire was moving, it was appropriate to get people out,” Horton said.
Investigators believe the fire started behind the Rogue Valley Family Fun Center along the Bear Creek Greenway, Horton said, though the cause is still under investigation. The fire destroyed five outbuildings and damaged three residences and one other outbuilding, he said. No people or pets were injured in the blaze, which drew multiple Jackson and Josephine county fire agencies through the Wildland Task Force.
By about 5 p.m., police began evacuating homes and businesses, including the Pilot Travel Center, Sonic Drive-In and Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center and Shell station. Central Point resident Debbie Saxbury said she saw the field by the new Costco was on fire and that at one point, her car was surrounded by flames as she drove through the intersection of East Pine Street and Hamrick Road.
Law enforcement agencies that assisted Central Point police with evacuations and road closures included the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office, Oregon State Police and Medford police, according to Horton. The fire drew 29 units and more than 60 fire personnel.
“This fire moved quickly,” Horton said. “It had wide spread.”
Police and fire crews quickly closed multiple roads in the area, including parts of Hamrick, Pine, Biddle and Table Rock.
Kate Foley was making her daily drive to Vista View Mood and Memory Care at 4439 Hamrick Road to visit her husband, Norman, when she saw the dark plumes of smoke sent high into the sky. By the time she arrived at the facility, she said, the fire had spread to nearby structures. Foley and two caretakers evacuated residents when the fence behind the building caught fire.
They used their own vehicles to transport all 14 residents to Providence Medford Medical Center to meet with administrator Kathleen Howard and to reunite with their families, with whom they will spend the night, she said. She said everyone had gotten out of the residence safely and was unharmed.
The area south of the memory care facility in the direction of Costco “looked like hell,” she said.
The flames burned through the field flanking Costco and headed further east, driven by strong winds.
Firefighters drew their line in the sand at Biddle Road, where crews that included the airport fire team stopped the advancing flames from reaching the Medford airport. The fire scorched the earth right up to the curb, save for two spot fires that jumped Biddle Road on each side of Cirrus Drive near the Erickson Air-Crane building.
News of the fire charging toward north Medford enticed Steve Adams to cut his gym workout short and hurtle toward his Seal Pro concrete-coating manufacturing company off Biddle Road.
The large field just north of his plant — which also splits the airport and Costo — was ablaze.
“As I was driving up, a bomber flew by and dropped a load of retardant,” Adams said. “Those were pretty amazing pilots.”
He saw two distant buildings engulfed, Adams said.
“There were 20- 25-foot flames coming from those houses,” Adams said.
The fire reached his chain-link fence and Adams went on the attack, first with a shovel and then with the company fire extinguishers.
“Those didn’t last long,” he said.
Adams ended up hosing down smoldering grass, leaves and small pieces of wood as fire crews on the grass and from Biddle Road rained water on the fire. The fire made it about a foot past his fence and stopped, much to his relief.
Stopping the flames there kept the fire from roaring through various businesses deeper into Medford toward Crater Lake Highway.
“They were really on it,” Adams said. “Obviously, they didn’t want it going any further.
“If one of those pieces of wood or leaves caught fire and blew past here, I think they would have been in for some serious trouble,” he said. “It’s scary.”
It’s not immediately known how many residents were displaced by the fire, but Fire District 3 said an updated assessment would be ready in the morning.
Sue Ross, owner and operator of R&R Pet Resort at 340 Cabbage Lane, Phoenix, offered to take in pets who needed a temporary home. The facility has 125 large indoor and outdoor dog kennels, but can house more animals with the help of portable pens that could be set up in a large air-conditioned room if necessary, Ross said late Tuesday. Ross said she had been told that a group of nine exotic birds displaced by the fire was on their way to the resort for the night.
“(It) might be a little challenging but we’re going to try to figure that out,” she said.
Horton said this is the third “significant Greenway fire” that the Rogue Valley has had in a week. The others occurred Thursday and Friday near the North Medford exit.
Earlier news reports pointed to transient activity along the Greenway as a factor in at least one of those fires, but Horton couldn’t comment on Tuesday’s investigation except to say that a cause should be released in the morning.
“It’s just beginning,” Horton said of the investigation scene. “We probably won’t know until tomorrow.”
By 6:30 p.m., the fire had been largely contained, although rescuers asked those who had already evacuated to still steer clear of the area.
By 7 p.m., all affected areas had been reduced to a Level 2 “get set” evacuation notice and all roads had been opened.
Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.