A house fire reported Tuesday at 520 Fordyce St. was quickly put out by Ashland Fire & Rescue, only to roar back to life in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Even before the second fire, it was pretty well scorched and uninhabitable, Battalion Chief Kelly Burns said Tuesday afternoon, despite the fact that, from the street, the house looked almost normal, maybe a candidate for some remodeling.
That fire was called in at 12:35 p.m. and, he said, had started outside the rear of house and did much of its damage there.
Owners Monty Walters and Lizzi LoPresti were offered lodging and extra clothing by the Red Cross, said Burns, as he wrapped up the job.
Unfortunately, the fire “rekindled,” a very rare occurrence, and neighbors who saw the flames, called the blaze in a second time at 2:45 in the morning. This time, the fire was much more thorough, scouring the whole interior, but leaving the shell standing, with lots of blackening marking where smoke eddied out windows.
“Rekindling of a house fire is very rare,” said Battalion Chief Chris Chambers. “I can’t remember any in my 16 years here. We feel bad for the owners. The loss (with the rekindling) is going to be greater and they already had significant loss.”
Ensuring there’s no fire or coals concealed in walls or other structural elements after a fire is supposedly put out is a complex process and, Chambers said. “We do everything by the book, but sometimes the structure is a complex place or there are void places in the wall” that can’t be detected by heat sensors used by firefighters.
Since the fire was doused in midday, Chambers said there was thought to be no need to have someone there all night. However, firefighters visited the house in the evening and found it quiet, but “you never can know with 100 percent certainty. We are now as confident as you can be that it’s out.”
The original fire penetrated the first and second floors of the small two-story structure, said Burns, making it “unlivable.” The point of origin of the fire hasn’t yet been nailed down by the fire marshal, said Burns. All homeowners should clear a five-foot apron around their houses, he added.
“It was something outside. One possibility is an extension cord left out a long time,” said Chambers. “You shouldn’t leave it outside more than 90 days,” as the insulation can decay, exposing live wires.
Especially problematic, he said, are welcome mats and lawn furniture, typically situated outside near houses and often made of flammable materials.
Chambers noted the similarities between this and the Friday fire in an accessory building along an alley off Allison Street, noting they both started outside. He added that arson has been ruled out in both fires.
Friday’s fire sent abundant embers flying, which, he said, could have caused massive trouble if there were high winds.
Burns said September is the most dangerous month for fire, as it’s dry and it can spread from a house to grassland and neighborhoods and “we don’t need another Oak Knoll or Santa Rosa.” Because of the iffy conditions of drought-stricken Southern Oregon, he adds, firefighters from Oregon Department of Forestry arrived at the original Fordyce blaze to make sure that didn’t happen.
John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.