Transient Who Started Pacific Pride Fuel Fire, Sentenced Today

This is an update to our previous coverage of the massive three-alarm fire that took place at the Pacific Pride Fuel Station.

The Jackson County District Attorney’s Office announced today that John Salmons was sentenced by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Kelly Ravassipour to a total of 204 months in prison with 3 years of post-prison supervision.

A Jackson county jury heard evidence during a four-day trial regarding Mr. Salmons’ involvement in the fire that destroyed the Pacific Pride gas station and surrounding buildings on April 12, 2022. The case was investigated by Medford Police Department as well as investigators from the Medford Fire Department.

On April 12, 2022 at 9:39pm the first 9-1-1 call came in reporting a small fire at the Pacific Pride gas station on S. Central Avenue in Medford. Medford Fire Department responded at approximately 9:50pm and found a fire on the backside of the fence line running between Pacific Pride and the railroad tracks behind Pacific Pride. There were multiple containers holding automatic transmission fluid and motor oil along the fence line, and by the time Medford Fire Department had responded those containers had already begun to breach. A fire investigator testified that both those liquids are combustible liquids. Due to the location on the back side of the fence, along the railroad tracks, efforts to bring engines on scene to help with suppression efforts were complicated.

As the fire began to breach more of the containers holding flammable liquids, those liquids spread and ultimately began running down Central Avenue while on fire. An employee at the La Mota store just to the north of Pacific Pride was still inside and unaware the fire had started as the fire spread down Central Avenue. When she noticed that there was a bright light in the parking lot, she realized there was a fire as Medford Fire Department responded to help her evacuate the scene by traveling down the back side of the businesses.

Ultimately, Medford Fire Department was on scene working to extinguish the fire until approximately 5am on April 13, 2022. Medford Fire Department Captain Michael Longo testified that approximately 1 million gallons of water had to be used to fully extinguish the fire. The suppression efforts involved the assistance of every fire department in the area.

After the fire was suppressed, investigators for Medford Fire Department as well as Medford Police Department were able to go on scene and begin their investigation. The fire investigator testified that she was able to determine that the point of origin was likely at the base of the fence line where the initial witness reported seeing the fire, and that the cause was undetermined but likely human caused.

Medford Police Department began to collect surveillance from nearby businesses. By reviewing hundreds of hours of surveillance video they were able to determine that there was one male in the area of the point of origin shortly before the smoke could be seen on camera. They were able to determine a few identifying characteristics of that suspect male, to include a distinctive headlamp, hat, backpack, and shoes. A photograph of the potential suspect was disseminated to local law enforcement as part of an attempt to locate the individual seen on surveillance.

On April 16, 2022 Medford Police Department had contact with John Salmons when he was seen with a fire along the greenway. He was detained at that time for being in possession of a lighter, which was a violation of his probation. He had been convicted of Arson in the Second Degree on January 11, 2022. Mr. Salmons was found to be in possession of a hat, headlamp, and shoes that appeared to match the surveillance footage from the scene. Mr. Salmons was contacted and denied that he was at the scene of the fire.

On April 22, 2022 Mr. Salmons was lodged on charges stemming from the Pacific Pride fire, and on April 26, 2022 he was indicted by a Jackson County Grand Jury.

After the initial media release regarding Mr. Salmons’ arrest, a witness came forward to provide information that she had been standing on the railroad tracks south of Pacific Pride watching the fire when a male matching the description of the suspect arrived and began cheering as he watched the fire. She noted that there were several people watching and that while other people would cringe from explosions, he would cheer. When she saw the photograph of Mr. Salmons that had been released by Medford Police Department she recognized him as the male who had been acting strangely. She also gave a description of the hat and backpack Mr. Salmons had been wearing the night of the fire, which were details that had not been released to the public.

While Mr. Salmons was in custody a witness came forward with information regarding Mr. Salmons’ involvement. This witness had been a cell mate of Mr. Salmons, and informed law enforcement that Mr. Salmons had made statements to him regarding the fire. At first, Mr. Salmons had denied that he was involved in the fire, but ultimately ended up telling the witness that he had started the fire intentionally. He told the witness that he started the fire using brake cleaner that he had transferred into an empty OC can. Mr. Salmons stated that he had seen an encampment along the back side of Pacific Pride, and that he had a beef with the person living in that encampment and decided to set it on fire.

After this witness came forward, law enforcement found an OC can in Mr. Salmons’ property. That OC can was sent to the Oregon State Police crime lab for testing and was found to contain an ignitable liquid in the Light Range of the Oxygenated Solvents Class. This class of ignitable liquids can include brake cleaner fluid. Medford Police Department also found evidence that when Mr. Salmons was contacted initially by police he was in possession of an aerosol can that appeared to be consistent with a brake cleaner fluid, although that can was not retained. This was all information that was not known to police prior to Mr. Salmons’ cell mate coming forward. The cell mate, who was facing charges involving controlled substances and firearms in both state and federal court, was given a recommendation to receive 18 months off of a 92 month sentence in order to testify truthfully at trial.

Victims from each of the surrounding businesses that were destroyed testified at trial. The total loss is unknown at this point, but estimated to be over ten million dollars. Businesses have also had to shutter their stores and lay off employees. Runoff from the liquids that were spilled down Central Avenue was deposited into storm drains along the road and ended up in Bear Creek, which had to be cleaned up.

Mr. Salmons was found guilty on June 16, 2022 of one count of Arson in the First Degree, 6 counts of Criminal Mischief in the Second Degree for each of the surrounding businesses that were damaged or destroyed, and one count of Recklessly Endangering Another Person, which merged into the charge of Arson in the First Degree. He was also acquitted of one count of Arson in the First Degree, which was based out of the same fire but required the jury to make different findings for him to be convicted. The jury also found that Mr. Salmons was on probation at the time of the offense and that the amount of harm caused was significantly greater than typical for this type of charge, which meant that he was eligible to be sentenced to double the normal sentence for this crime.
The maximum penalty Mr. Salmons faced was 20 years in prison on the charge of Arson in the First Degree. Judge Kelly Ravassipour sentenced Mr. Salmons to 17 years in prison, with 3 years of Post Prison Supervision to follow his prison sentence. The first 90 months of that sentence will be served under Measure 11. During sentencing, the judge noted that if she gave Mr. Salmons 20 years in prison he would not have any supervision following his release from prison back to our community, and that he is exactly the kind of person who needs to be on some sort of supervision. She sentenced him to the maximum sentence on each of the misdemeanor charges of Criminal Mischief in the Second Degree, 1 year in jail, and ran those concurrent to his prison sentence. Mr. Salmons was also ordered to pay restitution, and the state was given 90 days to determine the amount.

Courtesy of JCDA

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