'Brazen' Suspect Sought After Several Fires in Oregon

July 10--Firefighters spent two hours early Wednesday rushing around a west Medford neighborhood putting out several intentionally set fires, sometimes having to dash to the next blaze as soon as they got the flames on a previous fire under control.

Police were also in tow, looking for a suspect as they progressed from fire to fire. The search came up dry, but the spree seemed to stop after the fourth fire was set and extinguished.

"It's very brazen and bold of the suspect, and it's frustrating that we didn't catch him also," said Lt. Mike Budreau of Medford police.

The first call for a structure fire came in at 4:30 a.m. Some hay bales near 320 N. Holly St. in Medford were burning, with the flames threatening to spread to a nearby fence if left unattended.

Jan Alsup awoke to the smell of smoke and walked outside to see Medford Fire-Rescue firefighters pouring water on the burning hay, scorch marks dotting the area.

Firefighters had just gotten that fire under control when the second 911 call came in. It was a shed this time, burning on 444 N. Grape Street, just a couple blocks away. It was 4:53 a.m. 23 minutes after they had first arrived. Alsup watched the firefighters leave the scene to tend to that blaze.

"They said they would be back. They just got another call two blocks down," Alsup says. "It was kind of chaotic."

Fire number three was reported at 5:17 a.m. -- a fence behind 535 Pennsylvania Drive. Crews were able to prevent the flames from reaching an outbuilding just feet away.

The fourth fire came at 6:38 a.m. with the report of a fire at a storage shed behind an apartment complex on 329 N. Holly St., near the first blaze.

"We smelled smoke and said, 'That smells close,'" said resident Todd Scott. "We didn't know exactly where it was coming from."

Crews arrived at the final fire and put it out, but not before it torched parts of the shed's interior. No one was hurt in any of the fires.

The recent heat and drought conditions and close proximity of neighborhood homes added urgency to the calls.

"You could actually get a fence or a structure on fire. It changes the scenario," Medford fire battalion chief Ken Goodson said.

"A lot of the homes are older and the fire could very easily get out of control," Budreau added.

Fire and police officials continue to investigate the mini arson spree, but no answers as to who lit the fires or why.

"We're not sure why that area was targeted, if that individual lives near there or knows people over there," Budreau said. "(They) could absolutely strike again. Like we've seen in the past, arsonists typically do."

Damage estimates were not immediately available. Officers continue to patrol the neighborhood, but fire officials encouraged neighborhood residents to also keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary.

"We're going to be monitoring the area, obviously," Goodson said. "It probably would be prudent to have people keeping an extra eye open, and reporting to Medford police any suspicious people in the area."

Another suspicious fire set on Holly Street last week could also be linked to the spree, police said, but that isn't confirmed.

Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact Det. Tony Young of Medford police at 541-774-2230.

In March, an Ashland man, Manoah Hall, 38, was arrested and charged with starting fires in five abandoned west Medford homes. Local and federal officials had been investigating 22 suspicious fires, mostly in southwest Medford, started between the summer of 2011 and the end of 2013. Hall remains in Jackson County Jail, awaiting a scheduled September trial.

Copyright 2014 - Mail Tribune, Medford, Ore.