Mystery shrouds apartment fire that burned 5-year-old

    Fire Marshals investigate a structure fire at Cedar Tree Apartments in Medford. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune

    Fire investigators were unable to pin down the cause of a southeast Medford apartment fire last week that drove six people from their home and sent a 5-year-old girl to a Portland hospital with serious burns.

    Crews who sifted through the wreckage of the Nov. 2 blaze that damaged two units at the Cedar Tree apartment complex — located at 2300 E. Barnett Road — found several possible ignition sources but could not pin down one as the definite trigger. Those possible causes include a cigarette and an unattended candle, fire officials said.

    Additionally, Medford Fire-Rescue Fire Marshal Greg Kleinberg said the door to the apartment had been left ajar, meaning someone could have made entry and set the blaze.

    Fire officials do know the fire started in the living room.

    “Without being able to narrow it down, we can’t just say there’s one cause,” Kleinberg said. “If there are multiple possible causes, officially it has to be called ‘undetermined.’ ”

    But the investigation isn’t over. Fire officials and police are hopeful they will be able to get more information from the sole occupant of the unit where the fire started. At 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1 — less than nine hours before the fire broke out — a vehicle struck that occupant, 51-year-old Tonya Kaylee Johnson, as she crossed South Pacific Highway near Lowry Lane. She remains in critical condition at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, according to hospital spokeswoman Lauren Van Sickle.

    The driver of the 1998 Toyota Camry that hit Johnson has been cooperating with Medford police, according to Lt. Mike Budreau, and an investigation showed no impairment or speeding.

    “It looks like she had run out in front of the car,” Budreau said, adding it still isn’t known why.

    Whether there is any connection between that incident and the fire is still unknown.

    The fire was reported at 5:35 a.m. Friday. Firefighters immediately went to a third alarm, drawing additional crews from Medford Fire-Rescue, along with additional engines from Jackson County Fire District 3, Jackson County Fire District 5 and Jacksonville Fire. The blaze was raging in Johnson’s apartment and had spread to the unit next door, blocking the stairwell exit for both apartments.

    Firefighters had to catch two boys living in the second unit — age 9 months and 2 1/2 years — that were tossed by their father from the balcony to escape the flames. Crews also made entry into a smoke-filled bedroom in the second unit and found a 3-year-old girl hiding under the bed and crying, and a 5-year-old who was unconscious. Firefighters carried both girls out. The boys’ father jumped from the balcony and injured his leg. The girls’ mother made it out without injury. The 5-year-old was transported to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, where she remains for treatment of burns on much of her body. The 3-year-old was hospitalized locally for smoke inhalation.

    Fire engines packed the stretch of East Barnett Road during the dawn hours, closing the road between Ellendale Drive and Black Oak Drive until about 9:30 a.m.

    The 10-unit building that housed both apartments is considered uninhabitable, Kleinberg said, but neither unit is a total loss, despite the damage.

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