Residents feel force of massive flames

The fire that sliced through the hillside above the Jackson Wellsprings on Monday began in almost the same place as Ashland's destructive 1959 blaze, unnerving nearby residents.

"If the wind changes then we're going to have to get out of here," Jonathan Ash said, recalling his thoughts upon first noticing Monday's fire from the Jackson Wellsprings garden, off West Jackson Road, just north of Ashland.

Ash and five other gardeners were among the first on the scene, shortly before noon. The men were preparing to work in the garden when they saw a trail of smoke on the hillside a few hundred feet away.

Minutes later, flames were lacing the pine trees and roaring across the bone-dry brush, he said.

"We grabbed our tools and ran up the hill," Ash said, about an hour after the ordeal, his face still singed pink. "It was huge."

For about 20 minutes, until firefighters showed up, the men dug a firebreak on the hillside, between the Wellsprings and the fire, Ash said.

"It was hot," he said. "It was definitely hot."

Fifty years ago last month, a fire began in the same hills and beat a catastrophic path south to Ashland's Lithia Park, charring 3,800 acres.

So as the fire ate through vegetation on Monday, Wellsprings residents, as well as workers and guests at the neighboring Lithia Springs Inn and Gardens, watched warily.

"I came out of the house to see what was going on and I looked up and the flames were hundreds of feet in the air," said Wellsprings resident Laurie Turner.

She got out binoculars to study the blaze from West Jackson Road.

"We haven't had rain for forever, so it's like it could go right down the hill," she said.

Patti Perez, a gardener at Lithia Springs, called 911 when she noticed a ribbon of smoke coming from the hill. By the time she got off the phone and back outside, flames were licking the hillside, she said.

"Flames were shooting up," Perez said. "We were definitely worried because this is an inn and we have guests."

Fire officials didn't order any evacuations as a result of the fire, but Ashland Fire & Rescue's Community Emergency Response Team was told to prepare in case evacuations became necessary.

After receiving a CERT evacuation-warning e-mail, Valerie Muroki and her partner, Edeltraud Muroki, both CERT volunteers, drove to West Jackson Road to check on the fire.

"When we first got here, you really could see how it could jump over the train tracks," Edeltraud said.

The fire did not appear to cross the tracks, which cut across the hill just above the Wellsprings and Lithia Springs.

The women said they were there to support the firefighters, some of whom they completed their CERT training with.

"Our hearts are with them and we're so grateful," Valerie said. "They don't even know we're here, but it's like we're their cheering section."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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