ASHLAND — The Oak Knoll fire in southeast Ashland has highlighted the importance of Fire Station No. 2, the small, aging station serving that side of town.
Crews from the station at 1860 Ashland St. drove to the fire in two minutes.
A captain coming from Fire Station No. 1 downtown took four minutes to arrive, and a downtown fire engine arrived in five minutes, according to information pieced together by fire officials.
Despite the quick arrival of firefighters from Station 2, the Ashland firefighters were not the first to reach the blaze.
The fire began off Washington Street close to Mistletoe Road, where the Oregon Department of Forestry keeps a fire engine to battle wildfires. ODF crews saw smoke and headed to the scene even before hearing a message from a dispatcher, reaching the fire at 4:38 p.m., according to information compiled by fire officials.
A U.S. Forest Service wildfire engine at a ranger station on Washington Street arrived at 4:40 p.m.
A fire engine from Ashland's small station was on the scene a minute later at 4:41 p.m.
The quick response was not enough to stop the fast-moving fire from jumping across Interstate 5.
It then burned across a grassy area into the Oak Knoll subdivision, where it destroyed 11 homes.
Ashland resident Don Mackin said he believes the Oak Knoll fire reveals the value of having a second fire station to respond to fires and medical emergencies.
"It definitely stresses the importance of having a facility on that end of town. It's difficult to come from downtown and work your way out there," he said.
Mackin chaired a Public Safety Bond Committee that recommended to the Ashland City Council that a bond be placed on the May 2011 ballot to replace Station 2, and the council last May directed staff to prepare a bond measure.
Among other issues, Ashland's smaller fire station is made of cracked, deteriorating hollow concrete blocks that aren't reinforced and could collapse in an earthquake.
"I hate to see the tragedy that occurred used as a justification for replacing the fire station. It's just confirmation. It's not justification," Mackin said of the Oak Knoll fire.
He said the fire station is usable for now.
"If something isn't done, it will reach a point where it simply can't be used," he said.
In 1999, voters approved a $4 million bond measure to replace Station 1 downtown, but they later rejected a $5.4 million bond measure to replace Station 2.
Many residents said at the time that plans for replacing the second fire station were too elaborate and too expensive.
A new proposed design to replace Station 2 scales back the earlier plans, resulting in a cost of just under $3 million.
Mackin said that especially in tough economic times, residents question whether Ashland needs two fire stations. But crews from the downtown station are not able to reach all of Ashland within the target time of five minutes, he said.
Mackin pointed out that Station 2 crews were also closer than downtown crews to last summer's Siskiyou fire, a wildfire that burned 190 acres and a home on a ridge above the southeast side of town.
Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.