Strange, new details revealed in Medford apartment fire

MEDFORD, Ore. – Months after a deadly Medford apartment fire, much of what happened that night remains a mystery.

In the dark, early morning hours of November 2nd, a fire broke out at Cedar Tree Apartments on Barnett Road in East Medford.

One little girl died and several others went to the hospital, but firefighters couldn’t determine what started the fire.

NBC5 News obtained a 77-page document revealing some strange and never reported details from that night, from what neighbors say they saw to questions fire investigators say are unanswered.

According to the report, roughly 3 hours before the fire started, a neighbor told investigators 51-year-old Tonya Kaylee Johnson’s apartment door was “wide open.”

Inside, she said a heavy-set person was sitting in a chair, but Johnson wasn’t home.

“We can definitively say Tonya left at this time and was not there between that time before and when the fire was discovered. That’s a huge window,” said Deputy Fire Marshal Steve Parks.

Johnson had been hit by a car earlier that night on South Pacific Highway. The incident left her in a coma for several months.

Parks said Medford Fire-Rescue learned the fire started in Johnson’s living room. It quickly spread from her apartment to others, resulting in more than $700,000 in damage.

But after analyzing things like her furnace, microwave and more, investigators couldn’t determine what sparked the flames.

Parks said, “We ended up with two or three different, you know, potential ignition sources or reasons and none of those rose to the level of probability ahead of the others.”

Two months later, and finally out of a coma, investigators paid Johnson a visit.

“There [are], I believe understandably, some gaps in her timeline,” Parks explained.

Johnston told them she went back home to her apartment that night only to discover her ex-husband inside. She says he assaulted her and when she regained consciousness, she escaped out the front door.

Johnson said they then got into a fight on the sidewalk and he forced her into a car.

But she was clear with investigators—she would never start the fire and hurt her cats inside the house.

Parks isn’t certain if Medford Police reached out to Johnson’s ex-husband to ask for his whereabouts at the time of the fire.

Police do say surveillance video shows Johnson walking alone and in a calm fashion towards the highway before the accident—to which Johnson said she didn’t remember.

“It’s her truth,” Parks said. “It’s what she remembers having happened that night

After an extensive three-and-a-half month investigation the cause of the fire “remains undetermined pending new information for consideration becoming available.”

Parks said, “fire investigation has come a long way over the years. And more often than not we are able to make a good, solid conclusion for the cause of a fire. But we do have some where we’re stumped.”

While there are many unanswered questions, what happened in Johnson’s apartment after she left still puzzles investigators.

“That’s a huge window,” Parks said. “So who knows what happened or didn’t happen in that apartment during that 7 to 8-hour window?”

Four months later, the trauma of what many experienced that night isn’t easily forgotten.

And that impact goes well beyond Cedar Tree Apartment residents.

5-year-old Olivia Chapman, a student at nearby Orchard Hill Elementary, will forever be remembered in the hearts of those who knew and loved her.

“You just take a deep breath and say, ‘miss you Olivia,’” said Cedar Tree resident Omara Atkins. “She’s a little angel watching over us now.”

Investigators say the case is still open.

If you have any information about the fire and who is responsible, you’re urged to contact police.

Leave a Comment:

Note: By commenting below you agree to abide by the KOBI5.com commenting guidelines. View the KOBI5.com Comment Board Guidelines »