City officials consider changes in aftermath of Oak Knoll fire

Even as a third-party report praised the city for its response to the Oak Knoll fire, it also suggested changes for the future.

For example, when the fire burned on Aug. 24, both City Administrator Martha Bennett and Finance and Administrative Services Director Lee Tuneberg were on vacation, so Police Chief Terry Holderness was working as city administrator pro tem.

The heads of the police, fire or public works departments should not be left in charge during city administrator absences, according to Clark Custodio, a retired deputy fire chief with the Santa Clara Fire Department who conducted a review of the response at the city's request.

"Those department heads are in charge of departments that will most likely be heavily involved in response operations," Custodio, an Ashland resident, wrote in his report.

Bennett said the city could designate a different person in the future to act as city administrator at times when both she and Tuneberg are gone.

Custodio recommended that the city consider hiring private security guards to staff roadblocks during emergencies in order to free up police officers.

Bennett said Public Works Department crews are available to help staff roadblocks and perform other duties.

He also recommended a plan to keep city workers on board 24 hours a day during emergencies. Bennett said she was developing a strategy to divide city staff into two groups so they can work 12 hours on and 12 hours off during extended emergencies.

Custodio wrote the city should have standing agreements with local equipment rental businesses for wheeled lighting units with their own generators, in case an emergency lasts into the night.

Bennett said she will review whether the city has such agreements. In the case of the Oak Knoll fire, the city could have borrowed lighting that was being used nearby by the Oregon Department of Transportation for construction on Interstate 5, she noted.

Custodio asked whether the city has an agreement with local charities to receive donated goods and issue vouchers for victims and recommended having a plan to set up disaster assistance centers.

Bennett said the city relies on the Red Cross to provide disaster relief to victims, and Community Emergency Response Teams are trained and ready to help staff shelters, aid in evacuations and perform other specific tasks.

"They're mobilized. They're organized. They're great," she said.

Custodio recommended greater uses of the mayor and Ashland City Council members during emergencies.

Bennett said Mayor John Stromberg helped get out information about the Oak Knoll fire and facilitated a post-fire Oak Knoll neighborhood meeting.

In addition to responding to residents' concerns, the City Council will be considering the development and adoption of new fire safety regulations in the near future.

For Custodio's full report, see

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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