JACKSONVILLE, Ore. – A house whose owner kept barrels of gunpowder, reloaded ammunition and sold bullets erupted in a barrage of explosions that a neighbor guessed may have been 5,000 to 10,000 rounds.
“It sounded like the Fourth of July,” said Don Goldschmidt, who lives across the street from James Frings, 77.
Frings survived with burns on his face and hands.
His next-door neighbor was returning from a coffee stand Saturday morning when he saw birds burst from the roof of the house.
“As soon as the birds left, I saw the flames and smoke come pouring out of the windows,” said Jacob Carr, 33.
Carr said he sprinted to his house, grabbed his phone and, as he was speaking to the 911 dispatcher, peeked into Frings’ place.
“I couldn’t see anything at first,” Carr said. “Then I heard (Frings) yelling, ‘Grab my hand, grab my hand,’ and I saw his hand come up through the smoke.”
Frings, who lives alone, was on the floor just inside the living room.
Carr dropped to his knees and crawled inside as the ammunition continued to explode.
“I was hesitant to go because of the ammunition,” Carr said. “I thought of my kids as I was going inside.”
But, he said, he went about five feet, grabbed Frings and pulled him through the front door.
As the blasts from gunpowder barrels rattled the house, firefighters from the region arrived.
Medford Battalion Chief Ken Goodson said exploding ammunition usually will not send bullets flying through the air, as the movies show it, although firefighters take extra care when approaching homes in such cases.
“Actually, it’s not uncommon for us to deal with ammunition during fires,” Goodson said. “We have this happen twice a year or so.”
Goodson said it wasn’t known if Frings was reloading shells when the fire started. He said there are several possible causes, and it may take time to determine which is the likely one.
Once the explosions tapered off, firefighters cut ventilation holes in the roof. They doused the flames, but the house was gutted.
Goldschmidt and several other neighbors speculated Frings had at least 40,000 rounds of ammunition. Carr’s family remembered seeing buckets of bullets outside the house.
Frings was well-liked by his neighbors, Goldschmidt said.
“He is a good old boy,” Goldschmidt said. “You couldn’t ask for a better neighbor.”