Fuel For The Fire

Only half of homeowners in Ashland's hills — which the Siskiyou fire slashed through in September — have cleared enough vegetation to suitably protect their homes from a future blaze, a fire official said this week.

"About 50 percent have actually done the work and have sufficient clearance around their homes," said Chris Chambers, forest resource specialist with Ashland Fire & Rescue.

Several homes were saved during the 190-acre Siskiyou fire because the owners had cleared brush on their properties, he said.

"The houses that were most directly threatened — except for the one that burned — the owners had done work around, and that was one of the big reasons that the homes were saved," he said.

The home that burned in the Sept. 21 blaze, in the 1500 block of Tolman Creek Road, was surrounded by flammable vegetation, Chambers said.

The fire stopped two properties away from David Heckley's house, he said, pointing to the charred hillside from his porch on Wednesday.

"It was coming right at us," he said. "It was totally a scary situation."

Many of the homeowners who were evacuated with Heckley and his wife, Gina, during the blaze have since become more serious about fuel reduction, Gina said.

Several years ago the Heckleys cleared a wide swath around their home, but they plan to do some upkeep this winter.

"We just continue to keep it up," Gina said. "You can never be too prepared. We have to be responsible for our neighbors as well. We'd like everybody to do it."

The couple plans to take advantage of a fuel-reduction assistance grant, distributed by the Oregon Department of Forestry. The federal grant reimburses homeowners for up to half of the costs incurred while creating defensible spaces, said Brian Ballou, fire prevention specialist with the department.

More grant money is available for Ashland homeowners who qualify, he said.

"The Siskiyou fire underscored that fuel reduction does work," Ballou said. "I think it was a wake-up call to folks."

Now is the time of year to do fuel reduction, fire officials said. On Wednesday, Jackson County commissioners extended the deadline for people to burn fuels through Nov. 15 to give homeowners more time to clear their properties.

Homeowners who want to burn vegetation in the city limits must contact Ashland Fire & Rescue to obtain a permit.

Fire officials recommend creating a defensible space of about 100 feet around homes in the city's Wildland-Urban Interface Zone, also known as the Wildfire Hazard Zone.

It's important to remove ladder fuels, which enable flames to spread to treetops or houses, Chambers said.

During a fire, houses with defensible spaces are more likely to be saved by firefighters — and potentially can save firefighters' lives, he said.

"We favor houses that are prepared, because we can defend more of those with limited resources," he said. "The primarily thing is safety: If firefighters can safely defend a house, that's what they're going to do."

For more information on creating defensible spaces, see ashland.or.us/wui. For more information on fuel-reduction assistance grants, call the Oregon Department of Forestry's Medford office at 664-3328.

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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