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PREPARING FOR THE WORST

Extreme fire danger here in watershed

Heat and threat of lightning worry homeowners in outlying areas
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Darren Borgias stands next to his home on Strawberry Lane in Ashland Thursday. Borgias says that limbing up trees close to your home can help protect it from fire. Daily Tidings Photo / Jamie LuschJamie Lusch
 Posted: 12:15 PM July 31, 2009

The spate of hot weather and the threat of lightning this weekend has Ashland fire officials and watershed homeowners on their toes.

They're hoping to avoid a repeat of the massive wildfire that swept through the hills above Lithia Park 50 years ago this summer.

"Certainly lightning this time of year concerns us and we'll be paying attention to what's going on," said Marguerite Hickman, a division chief with Ashland Fire & Rescue.

Fire danger level raised

Due to the hot weather, the Oregon Department of Forestry raised the fire danger level to extreme on Monday. Mowing dry grass, using chain saws and cutting, grinding or welding metal is now banned from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Restrictions previously applied only in the afternoon.

The stricter limits are in effect on state, private, county, city and Bureau of Land Management land in Jackson and Josephine counties.

The Industrial Fire Precaution Level will remain at level 2.

Also, all open fires, including charcoal fires, will be prohibited in the Wild and Scenic section of the Rogue River between Grave Creek and Marial. Previously, charcoal fires were allowed. Starting Monday, only portable cooking stoves using liquefied or bottled fuels may be used on sand or gravel bars that lie between water and high-water marks. These areas must be naturally free of vegetation.

Other restrictions limiting smoking to inside vehicles on paved roads, allowing campfires only in campgrounds and barring off-road vehicular traffic remain in effect.

Ashland fire officials also announced additional protective measures in response to the increased fire danger. All fires are prohibited in Lithia Park. Outdoor burning is prohibited and fireworks are banned.

A storm, moving east from the Pacific Ocean over Ashland, will bring increased chances of thunderstorms beginning Friday, said Mike Petrucelli, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Medford Office.

This week's hot temperatures have dried out vegetation, making it more easily combustible, said Greg Case, a division chief with Ashland Fire & Rescue.

On Monday, the Oregon Department of Forestry raised the fire danger level to extreme.

Fire officials have increased patrols in the city "to keep an eye out" and will monitor any lightning strikes with the help of the U.S. Forest Service, which governs much of the Watershed, he said.

"Any fire that's in that urban interface could be catastrophic," Case said.

Darren Borgias, who lives on Strawberry Lane, in the Watershed area, said he is "hyper-aware of the potential for fires to burn in the neighborhood.

"We're within a stone's throw — or maybe within the perimeter — of the 1959 fire in Ashland," he said.

Borgias, an ecologist and program manager at the Nature Conservancy's Southern Oregon office, has taken precautions against wildfire on his property.

He has trimmed trees that hang over his home, removed brush that borders the structure and maintained a yard of native plants.

"A fire could theoretically burn across that yard and not ignite the house," he said.

Meanwhile, Ashland fire officials are urging all those in the city to be careful when outdoors and to follow the extreme-fire-danger restrictions.

"I would just put an emphasis on people being responsible for the things that they're involved in and the activities that they're participating in outside," Hickman said.

"If people think they see smoke, they should call 9-1-1," she said.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.


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