City working to reduce fire hazards on county land

Ashland officials are working to create an agreement with Jackson County to reduce fire hazards on land just outside the city limits, after embers from a fire on a county parcel ignited on Oak Knoll Drive, burning 11 homes, Mayor John Stromberg said.

"The Oak Knoll fire shows that maybe the whole city, or many parts of the city, are vulnerable to wildfires not just from the forest side, but from the sides that border the rural land, the county land that can have dry grass," he said Thursday.

Stromberg hopes the city and county may be able to institute an emergency management plan in the coming weeks to reduce the amount of bone-dry brush on county parcels that neighbor homes. City officials will try to get a long-term management plan in place by next summer, before fire season starts, he said.

The city's weed abatement ordinance requires property owners to cut weeds and grass to 4 inches or shorter by June 15, but the county has no such requirements, said Ashland Fire & Rescue Chief John Karns.

"If we do maintain Ashland properties and right next door we have an accessible fuel load, then I don't know what good we've done," he said.

The Oak Knoll fire began on county property, near Washington Street, but the embers traveled over Interstate 5, igniting more county land and spreading rapidly to the homes on Oak Knoll Drive, inside the city limits.

Embers from the Washington Street side of the fire traveled 1,400 feet in the air, and could have easily ignited other homes in the area, said Chris Chambers, forest resource specialist with Ashland Fire & Rescue.

The city is hoping to create an agreement to manage the county land through the Regional Problem Solving process, which aims to address population growth and land-use planning throughout the county, Stromberg said.

In June, the City Council approved a resolution calling on the county to work with Ashland to better manage land on the fringes of the city. City officials plan to discuss specific fire-hazard issues with the county in the coming months, Stromberg said.

If the city and county come to a maintenance agreement, the two entities likely would share the cost of enforcing the regulations, said Bill Molnar, the city's community development director.

"Obviously there's a benefit to the city to manage those areas," Molnar said. "The county has a vast amount of land, so they may be open to managing the land, but they'll probably want to partner with the city to do it."

While the city and county work to negotiate a management agreement, homeowners should assess their own properties for fire dangers, Karns said.

"Hopefully we will lessen the danger to some of these neighborhoods, but we'll never eliminate it," he said. "That's why homeowners need to make their properties more defensible. Putting your own home in peril is one thing, but putting your neighbor's home in peril is entirely different."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or

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