ASHLAND — A fire erupted Sunday morning in the hills above Lithia Park when the unseasonably warm, windy and dry weather stirred up embers from an earlier controlled burn, fire officials said.

ASHLAND — A fire erupted Sunday morning in the hills above Lithia Park when the unseasonably warm, windy and dry weather stirred up embers from an earlier controlled burn, fire officials said.

Firefighters noticed a thin trail of smoke coming from the Ashland Watershed — the site of a Jan. 9 controlled burn — about 10:30 a.m. Sunday and notified the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the burns, Capt. Bob Cockell of Ashland Fire and Rescue said.

By the time the Forest Service could make it through the "literally straight up" terrain, the flames were visible from the valley floor and the fire had belched smoke across the mountain, Cockell said.

Usually, controlled burns — which leave hot embers behind — are safe in the winter because of the typically cold, wet weather, Cockell said.

"There could have been embers down in the logs or something," he said. "They don't put it all out because this time of year it just goes out. When you have weather like we did yesterday, it's pretty odd."

The fire department fielded about 35 calls from concerned residents Sunday, and Ashland's 9-1-1 dispatch center also was busy answering phones, Cockell said.

"We appreciate the vigilance of citizens who give us a call to make sure it doesn't go unnoticed," he said.

The unusually warm, dry weather that settled over the Rogue Valley on Sunday should stay through Wednesday, said Michael O'Brien, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Medford office. It is not expected to be as warm as the 61 degrees recorded Sunday in Medford, but should remain in the low 50s. The record for Jan. 18 was 65 in 1981.

The weather pattern was caused by high-pressure air that has hovered over the valley since last week, originally producing cold, foggy conditions, O'Brien said. As the sun evaporated the fog and warmed the ground, the valley floor grew hotter and drier, giving way to Sunday's weather anomaly, he said.

"The reason we finally warmed up on Sunday so much was because the fog was reduced to such a small amount that there was no significant pool of cold air left," O'Brien said.

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226, or hguzik@dailytidings.com.