Firefighters prepare for The Big One

More than 50 firefighters and 23 fire trucks from 17 different agencies across Jackson and Josephine County descended on Strawberry Lane Wednesday morning. They doused a home with water, they pondered whether another home was "defensible" and they trekked into the abutting forested countryside with tools in hand and on their backs.

But they weren't here to fight a fire.

"This is stuff we hope we never have to do for real," said Brian Ballou, fire prevention specialist for the Oregon Department of Forestry.

The conglomeration of firefighters met on Strawberry Lane for an inter-agency training exercise meant to prepare them for the upcoming fire season, and "create cooperation" between the various agencies who could end up fighting fire together this summer, said Ashland Fire Marshall Margueritte Hickman.

"Every year we create wildland fire scenarios," Hickman said. "It gives firefighters an opportunity topractice in a realistic setting."

The training exercise rotates around the region &

in past years it has been held on Applegate Road and on Roxy Ann &

but Hickman said Strawberry Lane, located high above downtown Ashland adjacent to the Ashland Watershed, is an ideal location because of the possibility of a forest fire in this neighborhood.

"It's a great location because it's a very realistic scenario," she said. "It could happen here. We hope it doesn't but it could."

The same attributes that make Strawberry Lane susceptible to forest fire &

large trophy homes surrounded by arid woodland filled with fuel &

also make it an ideal training location.

"One of the advantages is we get to look at everything up here in case a fire ever does occur," Hickman said.

Firefighters were able to practice defending homes in three different scenarios: one where water is readily available from a hydrant, one where water would have to be trucked to a home closer to the tree line and one scenario, a home owned by Paul Kay deep in the woods, that they would likely not be able to protect.

"This is a situation where a homeowner wants to live in a woodland setting," Hickman said. "It's beautiful, but there are trade-offs. The trees are very close to the home and the structure is made of wood."

Kay, who has lived in the home for 22 years, understands the danger.

"We're very cautious of the risks," he said, as fire personnel walked around his usually quiet homestead. We have accounted for every single match and coal over the last 22 years."

But Kay knows his luck could change at any time during fire season.

"We're not so arrogant that we don't realize we pose a risk to the forest by living up here," he added. "We're careful, but accidents can happen. Our strategy is if we see smell smoke we look around for flames. If we see flames, we'll run to a clear spot down the canyon. If that's closed off, we'll jump in the pond. Even that may not guarantee survival. I feel safer that they are up here training."

Another resident of the area, Joe Thompson, felt a little more confident than Kay that his house could withstand a forest fire.

"We've done everything we can to prepare for a fire," he said.

Firefighters said his house would be easier to defend because it has a shingled roof, which catches on fire slower than a wood shake roof, like Kay's. Thompson's home also has only sporadic trees surrounding it, and a stone wall, which would act to cool a fire down.

But Thompson's house, being up a dirt driveway and away form any hydrant, was not the easiest home to defend of the exercise. Firefighters practiced a technique called "anchor and hold" on a home right on Strawberry Lane. In this exercise a fire truck sprayed water over the house.

"In this scenario, the fire started in the Watershed and is moving towards town," Hickman said. "The firefighters are basically trying to cool off the potential fuel of the home until the fire passes. It creates a wetline which has a cooling effect on the fire."

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

Share This Story