It started with a plume of smoke just past 10 a.m. Monday. Within minutes, the hills south of Ashland were ablaze.
A hillside fire sent local police and fire crews near Crowson Road and Siskiyou Boulevard Monday morning, as residents filed out of their homes by the dozen to check on the commotion.
"There wasn't any smoke in town at first," said Richard Edward, who drove east on Siskiyou Boulevard to see the fire. "Suddenly I saw this plume of smoke rise up, and it went from nothing to this big in minutes."
By the time Edward arrived on the scene, dozens of cars lined the boulevard. Some people were standing on the hoods of their cars and taking photographs. Daniel Hill was using his cell-phone camera. He said the thick smoke filled the entire sky within minutes.
"It's crazy," Hill said. "It's moving so fast, I didn't realize fire could move like this."
The fire sent black and orange smoke into the air near Bellview Elementary School and Tolman Creek Road. Police arrived on the scene within minutes, and blocked off Siskiyou Boulevard traffic at the corner of Crowson Road.
Gennie Arndt was watching anxiously nearby. She lives in an apartment complex near the Bellview Armory, and says the fire had her scrambling for her belongings.
"This is the scariest thing I've ever seen," she said. "I'm thinking I should get my stuff into the car and get out of here."
"It's very scary," said Leslie Terrill, who lives in the hills just south of Clayton Road, as she watched the smoke pour into the sky. "It's extremely scary with the wind blowing and how dry of a summer it's been."
Minutes after it began, the fire was throwing a tower of smoke into the air. But about 30 minutes later, around 11 a.m., the fire appeared to explode in size, as it chewed through the bone-dry brush and sent up mountains of smoke that could be seen across the city.
"It doesn't look like it's being contained very fast," Terrill said. "I'm worried that if the wind shifts, we might have trouble getting off the hill.
Lou and Linda Morgan, who live in the 3600 block of Siskiyou Boulevard, left their home Monday morning, but only after checking to ensure their neighbor, a woman in a wheelchair, already had left.
"We couldn't find her, so she must have already left with someone," Linda Morgan said, as they drove away, passing two fire trucks and an army of firefighters heading into the hills.
Lou Morgan said he wasn't sure what had started the fire, but he did hear "a little burst" right before it began.
Elon Glucklich can be reached at email@example.com or 335-9152. Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Hannah Guzik contributed to this story.