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Oak Knoll fire fresh in firefighters' minds during Talent blaze

 Posted: 2:00 AM August 28, 2010

TALENT — Firefighters on hair-trigger alert after 11 homes were destroyed Tuesday afternoon in Ashland threw everything they had at a Talent fire that threatened homes Thursday afternoon.

When the grass fire that burned up to 2 acres erupted in heavy brush and trees at 251 W. Valley View Road, fire crews responded from Jackson County Fire District No. 5 as well as from Medford, Ashland and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Fire District 5, which serves the Talent area, also sent the first engines to the Oak Knoll fire in Ashland, which caused more than $3.1 million in damage and was the most destructive the city has seen in 100 years.

A helicopter was called out on the Talent fire, but ultimately wasn't needed to contain the blaze after fire engines took control and kept the flames away from a 55-and-older community.

"The first unit to arrive saved a couple of structures," said John McEvoy, an engineer with Fire District 5.

A crew from the fire district was mopping up some hot spots still smoldering on Oak Knoll when the call came in for the Talent fire.

"The Ashland fire was certainly in the back of everybody's mind," said Capt. Bob Holt of Fire District 5.

He said that when conditions are so dry that embers from the west side of Interstate 5 blow across to the east side in Ashland, firefighters are on high alert.

"Conditions like that make it difficult to contain the fire," he said.

In addition, there was a light wind blowing when the Talent fire erupted, raising the level of concern.

The initial call came in at 5:46 p.m., then fire engines were dispatched at 5:47 and arrived at the scene at 5:51 p.m.

In about an hour, the blaze was under control and no longer posed much of a threat.

Witnesses said they had seen children playing in the area before the fire started, but fire officials haven't determined how the blaze began.

Brian Ballou, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Forestry, said the fire danger now is extreme, so the Talent fire called for a higher level of response.

"For a one-acre fire, we probably had three times as many people as we probably needed," he said.

In addition, fire calls will automatically trigger deploying a helicopter and bulldozer.

"It's normal when we are in an extreme fire danger level," he said.

Firefighters were worried that the Talent fire was not only threatening homes, but was heading into the blackberry bushes along Bear Creek.

"We didn't want it getting into the cottonwood trees, which are an important component of the Greenway area," Ballou said.

Although the investigation is ongoing, Ballou said the fire was human caused.

Damian Mann is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach him at 541-776-4476, or e-mail

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