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Weathering the storm: Ashlanders report few significant issues

Sunday's snowstorm buried Ashland beneath a blanket of very wet and heavy snow. That led to fallen tree limbs — some of them piling on cars — downed power lines and a lot of slipping and sliding.

While unofficial snow depth reports ranged from 2 to 6 inches across the city, Ashlanders seemed to weather the weather with no major disruptions.

City crews plowed streets rapidly on Sunday, when everyone woke up to a white landscape. Motorists largely avoided steep hills until they were safe and city officials said there were no major vehicle crashes.

Most important, there were no reports of serious injury.

In the end, it was a fairly minor snowstorm. There was a lot of slush — but also a lot of wintertime beauty, with Facebook flooded with aesthetic shots of yards and valleys.

In the big picture, the snow was significant as the first one sticking to the valley floor in two years — years that were considered drought years and added little to the snowpack that waters the valley all summer.

“We saw an increase in call volume,” said Matt Freiheit, Ashland Fire Department battalion chief. “More slip and fall, more car accidents, more power lines down — and we’re the initial response on that. The important thing is we got no fire from it.”

Freiheit lauded people who dug out their walkways and fire hydrants, noting that one crew had to climb over a big snow pile with a patient-loaded gurney.

Crews responded to an accident on Interstate 5 and another on Dead Indian Memorial Road, but were thankful traffic moved safely up and down the Mount Ashland access road on Monday, its opening day.

“It wasn’t a big storm,” said Freiheit. “Some people weren’t prepared. Cars were abandoned on South Mountain Avenue. People called experienced friends later, to get them out, which is a good idea.”

Freiheit said the city has a routine for responding to snow: It first plows the routes to and around Ashland Community Hospital, then jumps on the main arteries of town, helping to keep traffic flowing more normally. The Fire Department keeps its all-wheel-drive reserve engine chained up, ready for any fires or accidents, he noted.

One car on Tolman Creek Road, near Albertson’s, was covered by branches of a fallen tree, he said. The department received 16 calls for power line problems on Sunday, but all were fixed before sundown that day.

Mayor John Stromberg said it could have been a lot worse if it had dropped below freezing Sunday night, but Ashland was spared that.

“I went out and shoveled a path at midnight to both cars on the street," Stromberg said. "I was afraid I might have to use my Yaktrax (strap-on crampons), but the path I shoveled stayed clean and dry the next day.”

Ashland police noted “no additional burden on our call line,” said Deputy Chief Warren Hensman.

“The Fire Department was busier than us," Hensman said. "They get the tree falls. From what I could see, there was no change in day-to-day operations. It was business as usual, just a little slower. People drove with greater distance between cars, as we were all taught.”

Mark Holden, the city's director of electric utilities, said there were some outages Sunday, but all were small and were fixed by afternoon.

“The snow weighted the branches and these went into power lines," he said. "We put the lines back up. Maybe 12 individuals were out during that day.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.