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Report finds high risk of wildfire across Ashland

 Posted: 4:15 PM April 16, 2014

Ashland Fire & Rescue is proposing that all of Ashland be classified as a wildfire hazard zone — not just the forested hills high above Siskiyou Boulevard.

The Oak Knoll neighborhood fire that destroyed 11 homes near Exit 14 in 2010 occurred in Ashland's lower elevations, not in the official Wildfire Hazard Zone, fire officials pointed out.

AFR recently divided the town into 16 zones and found that 14 are as dangerous or more dangerous than the Oak Knoll area in terms of wildfire risk.

Ashland neighborhoods wildfire risk ranking

Reservoir area off upper Granite Street — 12

  • u Strawberry Lane area — 11
  • Asante Ashland Community Hospital area — 10
  • North Mountain Avenue area — 10
  • Terrace Street area — 10
  • Southern Oregon University hillside area — 10
  • Beswick Way to Roca Canyon area — 9
  • Mistletoe Road area — 9
  • South Clay Street area — 9
  • Oak Knoll Drive area — 8
  • Airport area — 8
  • Quiet Village area — 8
  • Fire Station No. 2 area — 8
  • YMCA area — 8
  • Railroad area — 7
  • SOU track area — 7

— Source: City of Ashland 2014 Wildfire Hazard Zone Evaluation

The fire department used Oregon Department of Forestry criteria to rank the areas based on vegetation, topography and weather.

"The largest structure loss fire in Ashland history, the Oak Knoll Fire, occurred in a zone with a score of eight," fire officials said in a city of Ashland 2014 Wildfire Hazard Zone Evaluation report.

Compared to the Oak Knoll area's score of eight, the hills around Southern Oregon University, the Asante Ashland Community Hospital area, the Terrace Street neighborhood east of Lithia Park and the North Mountain Avenue area all scored a 10.

The Strawberry Lane area west of Lithia Park scored an 11, while a reservoir area off upper Granite Street scored a 12 and ranked as the most dangerous area.

The current Wildfire Hazard Zone covers the reservoir area, but doesn't cover all portions of the other areas ranked as more dangerous than the Oak Knoll neighborhood.

The North Mountain Avenue area is below Siskiyou Boulevard and completely outside the hazard zone, despite the risk of grass fires there.

Forestry Division Chief Chris Chambers said including the whole town in the Wildfire Hazard Zone would allow the city to ban flammable wood roofs for new home construction.

Flammable wood roofs are allowed on new homes outside the zone.

"Wood shake roofs are absolutely the worst thing," Chambers said, noting wooden roofs contributed to the destruction of homes from the Oak Knoll fire.

The city could also regulate landscaping in some cases.

Vegetation such as junipers, cypress trees, blackberries and arbor vitae is allowed outside the Wildfire Hazard Zone, even though it can cause fires to spread quickly, according to the 2014 Wildfire Hazard Zone Evaluation report.

Flammable vegetation — especially cypress trees and shrubbery— was also a factor in the Oak Knoll fire's destructiveness.

The fire started in tall, dry grass and weeds in the Mistletoe Road area before jumping Interstate 5 and engulfing Oak Knoll homes.

The Mistletoe Road area scored nine points in the recent fire risk analysis.

Expanding the Wildfire Hazard Zone would enable more property owners to qualify for fuels reduction grants, fire officials said.

The proposed Wildfire Hazard Zone must first be reviewed by the Ashland Planning Commission before going to the City Council for approval.

The Oregon Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service support including the entire city in the zone.

— Vickie Aldous

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