Making the neighborhood safe

Neighbors who were downwind of the Oak Knoll fire have cut down dozens of highly flammable trees as they work to reduce fire danger in the area.

The Aug. 24 fire destroyed 11 homes on Oak Knoll Drive before firefighters stopped its advance at Pebble Beach Drive.

Neighbors in the 107-home Oak Knoll Meadows subdivision, which stretches from Pebble Beach to Crowson Road, have been the most active of anyone in Ashland when it comes to reducing fire danger, said Ashland Fire & Rescue Firewise Communities Coordinator Ali True.

She conducts free assessments of fire danger for property owners and gives people customized lists of actions to take.

"I've noticed more requests for assessments and people doing work out at Oak Knoll Meadows than any other part of the city," True said. "I've been very impressed."

Allen Baker, president of the Oak Knoll Meadows Homeowners Association, said it's been emotionally hard for people to cut down trees, but the neighborhood was overrun with flammable Leyland cypress.

The inexpensive evergreen trees are marketed as fast-growing and drought-tolerant.

"It's a fast-growing tree that is cheap — but it's also a torch," Baker said.

On their own or with the help of A to Z Tree Service, neighbors did their first cutting of brush and about 40 trees in December, he said.

The neighborhood started with about 200 Leyland cypress trees, many of which were planted in rows to provide screening against nearby Interstate 5, Baker said.

The trees are so prevalent that a Cypress Point Loop sits in the middle of the subdivision.

While the Oak Knoll fire was the impetus for the thinning work, Baker said the neighborhood was also close to the 2009 Siskiyou fire, which burned a home and a hill on the outskirts of southeast Ashland.

"That fire was on the hillside above us. Fire has not been a once-in-a-lifetime thing. It's been a twice-in-two-summers thing," he said.

Baker said the neighborhood association has formed a committee to research options for replanting the area with fire-resistant alternatives. More thinning work remains.

"We probably have several more years of work to do to make this neighborhood fire resistant," he said.

In the meantime, True said the Oak Knoll Meadows area is on track to be the first neighborhood in Ashland to win a national Firewise designation. The designation could come as early as this summer.

The National Fire Protection Association's Firewise Communities program encourages local solutions for wildfire safety by involving homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, firefighters and others in the effort to protect people and property from the risk of wildfire, according to

A Firewise Community can be as small as a neighborhood, True said.

After hiring True in 2010 to head a Firewise program through Ashland Fire & Rescue, the City Council further embraced the program by agreeing on Tuesday night to form a Firewise Commission.

The Firewise Commission will help neighborhoods become more fire-safe, and over time will help all of Ashland become more fire-resilient, Ashland Fire & Rescue officials said.

Neighborhoods and towns that win a Firewise designation may be eligible for grants. Cities that have a Firewise Commission also are eligible for grants, fire officials said.

The Firewise Commission will help Ashland maintain forward momentum on fuels reduction work, Fire Chief John Karns said.

"Fuels management is not something where you just go out and clear fuels, receive Firewise certification and walk away," he said. "It's ongoing."

To receive a free Wildfire Safety Home Assessment, and to learn about grants available through the city for fuels reduction work, call True at 541-552-2231.

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

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