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April 21, 2021

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Fallen Medford firefighter to be honored

National firefighters monument plans to add Burns’ name

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A Medford, Ore., firefighter who suffered permanent lung damage and later died after battling a fast-moving Ashland fire in 2010 will have his name added to the National Fallen Firefighters Monument in Maryland.

Medford Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Mark Burns faced thick, toxic smoke pouring off a fire that started in a dry field, jumped I-5 and destroyed 11 homes in Ashland’s Oak Knoll neighborhood. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation will recognize Burns during an October memorial service.

Medford Fire-Rescue personnel donated a brick in honor of Burns and his family that will be placed in the Walk of Honor. Burns’ family, friends and his fire family will attend the national ceremony, fire officials said.

In 2010, firefighters from throughout the Rogue Valley raced to help Ashland Fire and Rescue fight the Oak Knoll fire burning on a windy August day.

Once he arrived on scene, Burns was put in charge of a division downwind from the fire. Several homes within his attack area were engulfed in flames, fire officials said. Burns was exposed to smoke while he coordinated and assigned incoming resources, resulting in damage to his lungs and airways, officials said.

“I had the honor of working with Mark for most of my career in the fire service. He was a great mentor to me. I haven’t worked for a better fire strategist and tactician — ever,” said Medford Fire-Rescue Chief Brian Fish, who has three decades of experience in firefighting. “The best part for me was that we became very good friends. I miss him.”

Firefighters stopped the Oak Knoll fire, saving roughly 100 nearby homes. The fire left behind an eerie landscape, with houses on one side of the street leveled, and houses on the other side of the street still standing.

No one died during the fire, but damage to Burns’ lungs was irreversible.

“It was one of the quickest-moving fires I have witnessed in person throughout my career in Oregon,” said Medford Fire-Rescue Battalion Chief Tom McGowan. “The fire was spreading from home to home within minutes, and pulled resources from all over Southern Oregon to make the stop. Knowing that so many of us were on a fire that led to a fatality really highlights how quickly an incident can change from calm to chaos.”

Burns tried to return to work, but his respiratory problems were too severe in the months following the fire. He took time off in hopes of recovering but soon needed surgery to remove an abscess from his lung. With a portion of his lung removed, Burns could no longer pass the firefighter physical, fire officials said.

In 2011, Burns took a medical retirement. He was placed on a lung transplant list and was forced to remain on oxygen until his death in 2016, officials said.

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