Two off-duty Ashland firefighters were rescued from the north side of Mount Ashland this morning after they got lost Sunday and spent the night in a snow cave, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department search and rescue team reported.

Two off-duty Ashland firefighters were rescued from the north side of Mount Ashland this morning after they got lost Sunday and spent the night in a snow cave, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department search and rescue team reported.

Bill Earl and Don Manning were reported lost at about 4 p.m. Sunday. Sno-cats and snowmobiles were unable to reach them because of heavy snowfall and cold, Sheriff's Lt. Pat Rowland said.

A search and rescue team reached one of the men at about 10 a.m. today, and he led them back to his friend so they could both get out of the snowy woods safely, Rowland said in a news release about the search.

He said the men were well prepared for a winter outing, with food, water and cold-weather gear, and they had experience . They were apparently taken by surprise when Sunday's storm moved in with sudden intensity.

They dug a snow cave and built a fire to stay warm while they awaited rescue, Rowland reported. Their approximate location was known to searchers, and four snowmobiles and four sno-cats set out to find them. Weather and terrain made the search difficult, though. A team led by Sheriff Mike Winters found the first snowmobiler, then tracked back to the other.

Sunday afternoon, search and rescue teams also responded to the Hyatt Lake area for a family of eight who was late getting back. They reported in just as the searchers arrived in the area, but teams then spent four hours helping stranded motorists along the mountain roads, Rowland reported.

— Anita Burke