An ominous similarity

When Chris Chambers, forest resource specialist of Ashland Fire and Rescue, first heard about the devastating fire near Lake Tahoe that destroyed more than 200 homes, a disconcerting thought went through his mind.

"Ashland has the potential for something like this," he said.

Tahoe and Ashland share several similarities, most notably, Chambers said, is the potential for wildfire. Both tourist destinations are located in dry climates and are surrounded by many miles of flammable forests. Both have homes located very close to what fire experts call the wildland urban interface. In layman's terms, this means where the woods and residential homes meet.

With that in mind, Chambers hopes Ashland residents realize, before it is too late, what many Tahoe residents learned this week the hard way.

"We're due for a fire that threatens homes," Chambers said. The reason it hasn't already happened in Ashland, "We've just been lucky," he said.

The last big fire to affect Ashland happened in 1973. That one started at Pinecrest Terrace and burned more than 300 acres in the Hamilton Creek drainage, adjacent to the Ashland Creek watershed. In 1959, a fire burned more than 1,000 acres on the western border of town.

No homes were lost in either of those fires, but if the area of the '59 fire was built out as it is today, about 150 homes would have been lost, Chambers said.

"Back then the hills were orchards and grazing land," Chambers said. "It wasn't populated like it is today."

He also mentioned a lightning strike in 2002 on Strawberry Lane that ignited a large Ponderosa pine tree. A catastrophe was avoided only because the fire started between the road and an irrigation ditch, he said.

"If it happened on the other side of the road," he said, "we might be talking about something entirely different."

Paul Kay lives at the very last house on Strawberry Lane. Nestled into a hillside and surrounded by trees and underbrush, he knows well the dangerous situation he lives in.

"All the conditions exist except for the match," he said. "We can be careful in what we do, but there is just no telling. I know we live in a very dangerous place."

Ironically, he has friends from Ashland who went camping in Lake Tahoe this week.

"I am worried about them," he said. "I'm trusting their judgment that they changed their plans."

Matt Frey and his wife, Marcy Davy, owners of Rare Earth, also have a Tahoe connection. Frey spent a portion of his younger years there and the two often vacation there.

"I have some friends that were evacuated," Frey said. "They are in Sacramento right now."

He said the area that burned was a fire just waiting to happen. "I'm surprised it doesn't happen every year."

He added, noting the similarities between Ashland and Lake Tahoe, "Hopefully, it never happens here."

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226 or .

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