Fire officials are urging Ashland residents to learn from the Oak Knoll fire and remove brush and tall grass from their property this week as fire season nears.

Fire officials are urging Ashland residents to learn from the Oak Knoll fire and remove brush and tall grass from their property this week as fire season nears.

Fire season typically begins between mid-May and mid-June, as warmer weather dries out vegetation, said Division Chief Margueritte Hickman with Ashland Fire & Rescue.

"All it would take is a week of good, warm weather and we'd be in fire season," she said. "The time to clear vegetation is now."

The Oak Knoll fire, Ashland's worst residential fire in at least a century, might have been stopped sooner if vegetation in the area had been better maintained, Hickman said.

"It's a real life example," she said. "Truly, weed abatement is one of the factors that helps firefighters to control fires when they start."

A privately owned field of dried grass and blackberries on Washington Street helped fuel the spread of the Oak Knoll fire, which consumed 11 houses in about 15 minutes last August. Meanwhile, a vacant lot with mowed grass helped firefighters stop the fire from burning more homes, Hickman said.

"When the fire reached that vacant lot where somebody had mowed the weeds and grass, it helped us to stop it," she said. "That was a big help."

Residents are required to cut weeds and grass to 4 inches or shorter by June 15 and to maintain that length throughout fire season. Ashlanders are responsible for their own property, as well as park-rows and other areas abutting their property, Hickman said.

Those who have more than 1 acre of property must maintain 15-foot buffers around their driveways and 30-foot buffers around their homes.

Residents who don't cut vegetation on their property by June 15 could receive citations from the city.

During the 2010 fire season, fire officials conducted more than 750 weed abatement inspections. The city sent out more than 100 letters telling residents to clean up their property and issued five citations.

"It's important that you maintain the grass and weeds at four inches throughout the summer," Hickman said. "Weeds that are taller, fire's going to move through more quickly because there's more fuel to burn, and so the fire will be more dangerous — not just to property but also to firefighters."

Neighbors can also submit complaints to the city after June 15, via a city webpage, www.ashland.or.us./weedabatement.

More information on the city's "Cut it Short! Keep it Short!" campaign is also available on the webpage.

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