Ashland enjoys clean air, mild temperatures and green hills — most of the year. Then there’s July and August.
In other times of the year, it’s easy to forget how dry it becomes in the summer months. It’s easy to take the green forest for granted. It’s easy to forget about wildfire when it’s not directly affecting the city. But the truth is, Ashland is a perfectly flammable disaster waiting to happen.
So the city is trying to build a few more protective barriers around itself against wildfire and the accompanying smoke. That will be the topic of a City Council study session and public forum from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6, in the Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St., as the city considers amendments to its Wildfire Mitigation Ordinance.
There’s been a wildfire ordinance in place for years, but it only covers a small portion of the city, Mayor John Stromberg said. The amendments would extend the wildfire hazard zone to include the entire city and more closely regulate new structures and vegetation.
“The wildfire hazard zone is a part of the city that has been designated as needing special treatment,” Stromberg said.
The council discussed the amendments to the ordinance in July, but determined it needed more information, so set the public forum. After that session, a first reading is scheduled for the council’s regular business meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 21.
Stromberg stressed that the study session/public forum Monday is meant to answer any questions, but said the council cannot deliberate on the topic due to public meetings laws. So the forum will be limited to information about the amendments and question-and-answer segments. Opinions on the merits of the amendments and what changes should be made, if any, should be presented at the Aug. 21 council meeting.
“I’m hoping people will have a strong mental image of what this is, after (the forum),” Stromberg said.
He explained there are many components to the ordinance, which can be broken down into voluntary and regulatory categories. There will be new requirements for anyone building new construction or planting new plants. Existing structures and plants will be exempt from the new regulations for the most part, but property owners will be encouraged to create safer spaces when possible.
“Different kinds of fire behave in different ways and there are lots of things we can do now,” Stromberg said.
Monday’s meeting will include a staff presentation, questions from councilors and questions from the audience.
“Just like water conservation, if we explain to people about what’s going on and the benefits of the program, they’ll take it up,” Stromberg said.
The changes to the ordinance were recommended by Ashland Fire and Rescue. Then a wildfire mitigation committee consisting of representatives from Fire and Rescue, Tree Commission, Planning Commission, Planning Department and the Wildfire Mitigation Commission reviewed and approved the recommendation. The changes have been in the works for roughly four years.
Fires in Ashland, most notably the Oak Knoll fire — which destroyed 11 homes in 2010 in south Ashland — and disastrous fires nearby such as the Carr fire in Redding, have increased concerns about the unpredictable nature of wildfire. Structures and forest lands adjacent to and inside the city make it prime ground for an uncontrollable fire.
Stromberg said the city isn’t trying to frighten anyone, but wants residents to engage in the amendments to the ordinance and understand how serious a wildfire could be.
“We are dealing with fire and you don’t want sources of ignition that are very powerful and easily set off,” Stromberg said. “We’re seeing it right now, it’s pretty real.”
In addition to expanding the wildfire hazard zone to include the entire city and adding regulations for new construction, a prohibited plant list will be implemented, restricting certain types of flammable plants from being added in the city. Existing structures and plants may remain in place.
“From this point forward, we not building any more structures that condone fire,” Stromberg said.
Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.