A cigarette lit a small section of the restaurant's back deck on fire, sending smoke into the restaurant and forcing it to close for two hours.

Ashland restaurant owners and employees are building their fire-prevention skills and knowledge with help from trainers from Ashland Fire & Rescue.

During an outdoor workshop Tuesday near the police station on East Main Street, about 30 people from Ashland restaurants had the opportunity to put out a fire with a hand-held fire extinguisher before going inside for classroom training with AFR Fire Marshal Margueritte Hickman.

"The restaurants and the fire department are allies in keeping Ashland safe," Greenleaf restaurant owner Daniel Greenblatt said prior to his turn dowsing a large, carefully managed fire set up in the parking lot by firefighters.

Employees at Ashland's Grilla Bites who attended the training Tuesday used what they learned when part of the restaurant caught on fire Wednesday afternoon, said Leland Chase, a waiter at the restaurant.

A cigarette lit a small section of the restaurant's back deck on fire, sending smoke into the restaurant and forcing it to close for two hours, he said.

"They opened the cellar and this cloud of white smoke billowed out into the restaurant," Chase said.

Ashland Fire & Rescue responded to the smoldering fire, which was extinguished quickly, he said. Only part of the deck was damaged in the incident, he said.

It was fortunate that the employees had attended the training the day before and were able to help stop the spread of the fire, Chase said.

Tuesday's training also was designed to help restaurateurs prepare for newly instituted fire inspections required by the city, Hickman said.

In December, the Ashland City Council approved a fire hazard inspection program for businesses and other buildings. The program requires owners to pay inspection fees ranging from $32 to $192, depending on building size. Buildings that fail inspections get a free second inspection after the owner has a chance to correct any problems. If that inspection goes poorly, additional fees and fines begin.

Single-family residences and duplexes are not required to have inspections.

The decision to institute the program was unanimously approved by the Ashland City Council, but some business owners bristled at the additional fees, particularly during an economic downturn. Several spoke against the fees during council meetings or wrote letters to the Daily Tidings.

After the fire extinguisher training Tuesday, Pasta Piatti owner Tom Beam said the additional fees were painful. He said most of the business and restaurant owners already have inspections through Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration or other regulatory agencies that keep the public safe.

Beam acknowledged the danger that one large fire in the downtown could pose for neighboring businesses. Overall, he called the inspection program "a good thing."

Greenblatt was cheerfully resigned to the additional overhead costs.

"We'll just have to pay the fees," he said. "It's part of the cost of doing business."

Hickman said fire officials have received few complaints so far, despite opposition to inspections that surfaced while the City Council was considering the program.

"We've had very few phone calls objecting to the fees," she said.

In the past, fire inspections were conducted only in buildings that had a pronounced fire hazard or those which could endanger many lives if they caught fire.

Ashland's fire inspector was laid off in 2008, but Chief John Karns said fees collected from the inspection program could be used toward hiring a new fire inspector in the future.

In the meantime, the fire marshal and regular firefighters will be carrying out the inspections in between their other duties.

Myles Murphy is a reporter and editor for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-482-3456, ext. 222 or mmurphy@dailytidings.com. Reporter Hannah Guzik contributed to this story.