Colver House in Phoenix destroyed in fire

and Paris Achen

The historic Colver House in Phoenix, destroyed Sunday night by a dramatic fire that the owners narrowly escaped, was set to be sold Friday to pay off a mortgage.

Owners Jerry and Jennifer Greer had defaulted on a $240,000 loan and the bank had chosen to sell the property, said a notice of default filed with the Jackson County Clerk's Office on April 23. The sale was set for 10 a.m. Friday at Medford attorney Larry Hammack's office at 201 W. Main St.

The Greers, recovering at separate hospitals after leaping to safety from a second-story window Sunday, both said they were unable to comment Monday. Jerry Greer, who served as Phoenix's mayor from 1994 to 1996, was in fair condition and set to undergo additional medical tests at Legacy Emanuel Hospital and Health Center in Portland, where he was taken for surgery. Jennifer Greer was in fair condition at Providence Medford Medical Center and said she had broken her back in the leap.

The fire at the historic home the Greers had owned since 1989 was reported by neighbors at about 11:30 p.m. Sunday, said Jackson County Fire District No. 5 Chief Dan Marshall.

Initial reports said neighbors in the apartment building next door called 9-1-1 when they heard a loud explosion and shattering glass and saw flames engulfing the second floor.

"I went outside and heard him screaming, 'I'm so sorry, baby. I'm so sorry. I loveyou,'" said Kori Nurss, who lives across the street. "I called 9-1-1 back and said, 'You have to hurry. There are people in there.'

"The sound of his voice will never leave my head."

Witnesses said the couple jumped from a living room window on the second floor and landed on the porch.

"They narrowly escaped," Marshall said.

The couple's dog also escaped and was found safe Monday morning, but a macaw in an aviary behind the house died.

Justin Dizick, who tried to help the couple before paramedics arrived, said the former mayor couldn't move his legs, while his wife complained of back pain.

Firefighters responding from the Phoenix fire station just blocks away could see the glow in the darkness and triggered a second alarm as they rushed toward the rapidly growing fire, Marshall said.

Dizick said the speed of the fire was stunning.

"It went up so quick," he said. "This is a historic place for our town, and it's gone."

The 153-year-old building was engulfed by flames when crews arrived and a gas line at the rear of the home had erupted and was shooting a jet of fire into the night.

The three-alarm fire ultimately drew seven fire engines from District 5, Ashland, Medford and Jacksonville, and 35 firefighters, Marshall said. Southbound Highway 99, which becomes Main Street as it passes through Phoenix, was closed through much of the night as crews set up in formation to spray arcs of water at the lower and upper floors of one of the county's oldest structures.

The glow of flames was visible through every window, as the blaze ate a gaping hole through the roof.

A crowd gathered across the street to watch and film the scene with cellular phones.

"I was coming home from a friend's house in Medford, and it was raining ashes," said Phoenix resident Isaac Paiken. "When I came close to the house, all of a sudden big flames started erupting out of the roof."

Utility crews shut down an electrical transmission line running in front of the historic home to protect firefighters, cutting power to about 1,000 homes between Phoenix and Talent for several hours overnight, Marshall said. Unable to reach the natural gas shut-off valve safely, Avista crews dug up the gas line in front of the house to crimp the pipe and cut off the gas supply.

Firefighters, who focused on keeping the flames away from neighboring buildings, brought the fire under control by 1 a.m., and many were able to leave by about 3 a.m., Marshall said. Some crews stayed through the night to monitor the smoldering ruins.

Investigators from District 5 and the state fire marshal's office were studying the massive blackened beams that had collapsed behind the building's mostly intact facade and still sent up wisps of smoke Monday morning.

Inspectors suspect the fire started in the rear part of the home's first floor, which was used as a workshop and storage area, District 5 firefighter Aaron Bustard said. Avista helped conduct tests that indicated the dramatic gas explosion didn't cause the blaze, but likely resulted from the growing conflagration.

The preliminary investigation couldn't conclusively determine what started the fire, but insurance investigators likely will continue the search, he said.

The pending foreclosure sale didn't change how fire investigators approached the fire, Bustard said.

The foreclosure moved ahead early this year after the Greers failed to make monthly payments of $2,400 and $120 in late fees in the first four months of 2008 on a deed of trust they signed in December 2004, county records indicate. They also failed to pay property taxes and keep the property insured as the trust deed required, records note.

The Greers borrowed $240,000 at 12 percent interest from a rollover individual retirement account owned by Thomas Hamlin, with South Valley Bank and Trust serving as the custodian, Jackson County records show. The full amount was due to be repaid by Dec. 6, 2009. The default notice shows they owed $239,999.91 as of December 2007.

The Greers had obtained this deed of trust in December 2004 to rescue their historic property from foreclosure, according to the records. In the 2004 foreclosure case, a Portland attorney was listed as the trustee and $166,300 was owed.

County records also show a Washington Mutual line of credit for $235,000 issued against the property in 2005 and a Medford Irrigation District lien for $878 filed against the property in March.

Hammack didn't return calls regarding the fire and upcoming sale.

The Greers had listed the home for sale at $899,000 in the summer of 2007 and a potential buyer, Ashley Jensen, of Ashland, proposed demolishing the structure to build a commercial building. Phoenix officials rejected the demolition plans and the sale never went through. Jerry Greer offered the house to the city for an undisclosed amount, but cash-strapped officials said the city couldn't afford to buy, restore or even maintain the structure.

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