ASHLAND — Rows of cypress trees and clumps of brush in the Oak Knoll neighborhood acted as a fuse for the fire there last August that burned 11 homes, said Ali True, Ashland Fire & Rescue's Firewise communities coordinator.
What many residents don't realize is that similarly dangerous trees and brush can be found throughout town, she said.
"A fire can happen in any neighborhood in Ashland," True said. "We live in a very fire-prone environment."

Rows of cypress trees and clumps of brush in the Oak Knoll neighborhood acted as a fuse for the fire there last August that burned 11 homes, said Ali True, Ashland Fire & Rescue's Firewise communities coordinator.

What many residents don't realize is that similarly dangerous trees and brush can be found throughout town, she said.

"A fire can happen in any neighborhood in Ashland," True said. "We live in a very fire-prone environment."

The city received a $50,000 Firewise Communities grant this month to help Ashland neighborhoods prepare for a catastrophic fire. The Oak Knoll Meadows Homeowners Association is already utilizing the grant to cut down many highly flammable trees and clear brush alongside houses to help prevent the spread of a future fire.

Oak Knoll is on top of fuel-clearing efforts, but most other sections of Ashland are not, True said.

"The Oak Knoll neighborhood had embers and smoke coming in, so they really saw what could happen," she said.

Early spring is the best time to do fuel-reduction work, before the brush dries out and fire season begins, True said.

"Rainy spring days are the best time to get this work done," she said. "This is not something you want to be doing during fire season. You want to have it done beforehand."

The $50,000 will be divided throughout Ashland, she said. To more easily supervise the clearing work, True has broken up the city into five neighborhoods: Briscoe, west of Helman and Granite streets; Grove, north of Siskiyou Boulevard between Helman and Walker Avenue; Lincoln, south of Siskiyou between Granite Street and Walker; Terra, east of Walker to Interstate 5; and Oak Knoll, east of Interstate 5.

Each homeowners association or group of neighbors consisting of more than 10 homes is eligible to receive up to $2,500 each year for fuel-clearing work. First, the neighborhood must meet with True and Brian Ballou, an Oregon Department of Forestry fire prevention specialist, who survey the area and develop an action plan.

"We assess the hazards in a very systematic way and then prioritize the work that needs to be done," True said.

The neighborhood initially pays for the clearing work and then is reimbursed through the grant.

Individual homeowners also can receive up to $400 in grant money for clearing fuel within 30 feet of their house through another Firewise grant that the city received in November.

Grant funds can be used for limbing trees, removing brush, chipping vegetation and transporting and disposing of material, among other fuel-reduction work.

The grant is administered through the Oregon Department of Forestry and the funding comes from the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Homeowners are encouraged to replace flammable plants with those that burn less easily, such as laurel and rhododendron shrubs, True said.

"Leyland cypresses are great when they're 100 feet from your house," she said. "But you don't want them right up against your house."

For more information on the Firewise grant program, see ashlandfirewise.org or call 541-552-2231. For a map of Firewise neighborhoods, go to www.dailytidings.com/firewisemap.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158or hguzik@dailytidings.com.