By Sanne Specht
A young couple and their newborn, along with an elderly woman and several pets, managed to escape a Monday morning fire that severely damaged two Central Point condos.
Gina Grove, 90, who lives in the bottom unit of the Village Drive condos, first spotted the flames reflected in the windows of her upstair neighbor’s vehicle after screaming fire alarms caused her to look outside shortly before 9 a.m. Monday.
“I thought the car was on fire,” Grove said. “Then I came out the door, and I realized it was the house that was on fire.”
The fire, reported at 8:50 a.m., already had sent a thick plume of brown smoke into the air that could be seen and smelled from Medford, said Don Hickman, spokesman for Jackson County Fire District No. 3.
“The upper condo was fully involved when they rolled up,” said Hickman, adding that crews immediately called for a second unit.
By the time the flames were doused, Medford Fire-Rescue and Fire District No. 3 had responded with six engines and 22 firefighters, he said.
The 24-unit condo complex is in a neighborhood north of Beall Lane and west of Interstate 5. The fire started in the condo of Dennis and Chelsea Farina, Hickman said. The cause remained unknown late Monday afternoon as extensive damage to the upper unit’s overhanging deck required its removal, temporarily delaying further investigation, he said.
“That second floor unit is pretty well trashed,” Hickman said.
When firefighters arrived, they could hear smoke alarms blaring and were told all humans had safely evacuated. But Grove’s young black-and-white Chihuahua, Mickey, was still trapped inside, Hickman said.
“They knew the dog was somewhere in the lower floor,” Hickman said.
Firefighters used infrared heat detectors to locate Mickey through the thick smoke. The little black-and-white dog was discovered hiding under a bed, but he did not take kindly to firefighters’ rescue efforts, said Gina Grove’s son, Steve Grove.
“He didn’t want to come out,” he said.
Steve Grove said one of Mickey’s rescuers told him he was fortunate that he was wearing thick gloves and that Mickey is a small dog.
“He said he was glad (Mickey) wasn’t a Rottweiler,” he said.
Gina Grove said her cat, Larry, is still missing. But Larry, whom neighbors described as an orange-and-white feline with a distinctive curly tail, was safely outside when the fires started, she said.
Chelsea Farina expressed gratitude that they, too, had made it to safety. Also safe are the couple’s two cats. Unfortunately, their bearded dragon lizard was in a glass aquarium against a back wall and could not be rescued in time, she said.
“I’m still in shock. I’m trying to wrap my mind around all this,” she said, breaking down in tears.
Blistered paint peeled from the couple’s black Isuzu Rodeo, which was parked adjacent to their condo. The vehicle sported a “For Sale” sign.
“Guess they’re not going to be able to sell it now,” said one neighbor, shaking her head.
Several neighbors took turns offering encouragement to the fire victims. Two women came down the sidewalk and gave the Farinas’ two trash bags filled with baby clothes.
“The neighbors here are so friendly. It’s nice to see,” Hickman said, adding crews received offers of coffee and sodas from other nearby residents.
Firefighters wearing heavy gear continued to search for hot spots in the structure. But they also found time to help the victims. One firefighter who had just emerged from Grove’s condo, headed back inside to get Mickey’s leash. Another leaned out an upper story bedroom window in the Farinas’ condo, carefully setting three soot-blackened teddy bears out of harm’s way on the garage roof.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story originally appeared in Medford Mail Tribune.