ASHLAND — A fire exploded in high winds at mid-morning Monday near the intersection of Siskiyou Boulevard and Crowson Road, destroying one home and torching 100 acres before 125 firefighters brought it under control.
Creating a towering plume of smoke over Ashland just after 10 a.m., the blaze climbed through the foothills south of Siskiyou and led to the evacuation of residents of Upper Tolman Creek Road and its side streets, including Timberlake Drive and Greenmeadows Way.
One home, set back 100 yards east of theintersection of Tolman Creek and Morninglight, burned to the ground as flames licked up adjacent foothills and seven helicopters repeatedly dropped buckets of water around it — and on spot fires threatening several other homes on Tolman Creek.
Fire District 5 Chief Dan Marshall, at the scene, reported several homes were saved and the blaze had "laid down" at 5 p.m. The fire was pronounced contained just before 5 p.m. — and the command center, set up at Weisinger's Winery on Siskiyou, began to disband.
A handful of evacuees had bided their time at a shelter at First Baptist Church on Siskiyou Boulevard.
"They're not real upset. They're here, talking to their pets," said Heidi Gottlieb, program assistant for the city's Community Emergency Response Team. Another shelter was planned by the Red Cross for the new Ashland Armory, but was not needed.
As the flames burned amid heavy smoke at mid-day, many residents unsuccessfully tried to reach their homes above the blaze to rescue animals. Many cars from residents on the hill were parked on Greenmeadows, seats filled with computers and family photo albums.
Winds blew briskly from the east, driving the blaze, called the Siskiyou Fire, toward Tolman, but about 11 a.m., the wind slacked off and changed direction, prompting resident Makaaly Yates to say, "I feel safe now."
Jack Nitcki said his wife put valuables in her car and left their Tolman Creek home at 11:20, but, with winds slacking and water drops taking effect, he added, "If I were up there, I wouldn't have left yet."
Pattie McCraney, a resident of the west side of Tolman Creek Road, said she and her children got their animals out, except for two cats.
"We can't get home," she said. "We are trusting in God that the fire won't cross the road."
Bellview School, at Tolman and Siskiyou, about a mile from the fire, was evacuated and children were bused to Ashland Middle School to be picked up by parents. Bellview will be closed Tuesday.
Areas evacuated included Tolman between the 1300 and 3500 blocks; all of Morninglight Drive, Timberlake Drive and Timberlake Terrace; Bellview Avenue and all streets south, including Greenmeadows Way, Lupine Drive, Sam Evans Place, Ranch Road, Green Meadows Drive, Apple Way and Morada Lane.
In addition to Fire District 5, crews on the scene included fire departments from Ashland, Medford, Rogue River and Josephine County, said Marshall. The final tally of resources brought in on the fire included four Forest Service retardant planes, seven helicopters, four bulldozers, 25 other pieces of fire apparatus and up to 125 fire fighters.
The fire's plume drifted north, obscuring the Siskiyou Mountains on the west side of the valley and filling much of the valley with the acrid smell of smoke. By mid-afternoon, many valley residents and firefighters shifted their attention to a fire that raced across Roxy Ann Peak, on the east side of Medford.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski granted a Conflagration Act order at 12:52 p.m., which released state resources to assist on the Ashland fire.
Ashland city crews turned off Pacific Power lines at Greenmeadows to the south. The fire took place entirely in the county, outside city limits.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at email@example.com.