Fire ruins stores and restaurants in Medford strip mall

Five businesses were destroyed and one appeared severely damaged in a Tuesday afternoon fire at the Poplar Square shopping center in Medford.

Fire officials were investigating the cause of the blaze late into the evening. The fire was first reported at the Deli Yogurt Delight between Joe's and Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts at around 5:30 p.m.

Flames soon burst through the deli's roof and moved to Supercuts, Allstate, Ace Cash Express and U.S. Cellular. Each business was gutted and the roof burned away. Tin Tin Buffet was severely smoke- and water-damaged.

"It appears now that Joe's received only a little smoke damage," Medford Fire Deputy Chief Larry Anderson said.

The fire sent a thick column of smoke into the air that could be seen from across Medford. Police officers worked to block traffic from coming off Highway 62 onto Poplar Drive. No injuries were reported.

The emergency featured an inauspicious beginning, according to several employees who worked at the destroyed businesses. Many of them said they had no clue they were inside a burning building.

Supercuts employee Gracie Perez was in the middle of giving a trim when a woman walked into the business and informed her the building above her head was on fire.

"It was a good thing that woman came in, because I may still be in there," Perez said from the shopping center's parking lot, which was filled with on-lookers by the time fire crews from across the Rogue Valley arrived.

Melody Bramsen, who has worked for Deli Yogurt Delight for more than five years, was amazed at how quickly the fire spread.

"It caught so fast, it took us by surprise," Bramsen said. "I told everyone inside to get out. As I was running out the door I told the fire department to turn off the gas."

It didn't take long for flames to rip through Deli Yogurt Delight's roof and spread via the attic to All-State Insurance next door.

Firefighters overcome by heat and exhaustion left the Tin Tin Buffet to sit on a curb outside the shopping center for water breaks.

"This is a very dangerous situation," Anderson said. "It got up to about 800 degrees in there and that smoke from all those synthetic materials is deadly."

Meanwhile, a large hose ladder was deployed to drop water directly into the flaming building. The flames began to slowly dissipate at around 6:15 p.m.

Anderson speculated the fire entered the attic fairly quickly and spread from there.

"But we won't know a for-sure cause until (today)," he said. "But it must have cooked in the attic for a while before anyone saw it."

Anderson said the building is alarmed and the sprinkler system was functional. However, sprinklers do little to stop attic fires, he said.

Fire crews from Rogue River, Phoenix, Ashland, Jacksonville and Jackson County Fire District — assisted at the scene.

Once the flames had died down enough Anderson began to tour the burned businesses. The inside of Tin Tin Buffet was a soggy, smoky mess.

"The other business are destroyed," he said. "And I don't think this one will be opening soon, and that's a fact."

Reach reporter at 776-4471, or e-mail

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