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Ashland weighs partial ban on fireworks

ASHLAND — Fire Chief John Karns is proposing that the city ban fireworks uphill from Siskiyou Boulevard and North Main Street.

The proposed "above the boulevard" ban is tentatively scheduled to go before the City Council for consideration on Oct. 20.

Karns took over for retired Fire Chief Keith Woodley and started work in Ashland on June 22. He was soon thrust into the fire department's work to keep people, homes and land safe during Fourth of July festivities.

Karns found that the city bans the use of fireworks during the fire season, except from June 23 to July 6, when state government allows fireworks sales in Oregon. Fireworks sales are not allowed within city limits.

But Ashlanders can use fireworks anywhere in the city, even near the urban/wildlands interface that make up the Ashland watershed, source of the city's drinking water.

"I was a little astonished that we were allowing fireworks in our interface at such a dangerous time," said Karns, who came to Ashland after working for a fire department in the Los Angeles area.

Wildfires near Los Angeles have burned about 250 square miles of land, destroyed dozens of homes and killed two firefighters this summer, The Associated Press reported.

Although fireworks are currently allowed anywhere in Ashland, residents are not supposed to use them near dry vegetation.

Yet Karns and Chris Chambers, forest resource specialist for Ashland Fire & Rescue, said when they toured Ashland after the Fourth of July, they found used fireworks near dry vegetation and close to the Ashland watershed.

"I think banning fireworks above the boulevard would be great. ... Every year that I've walked out there, I see spent fireworks in areas that are very scary to me," Chambers said.

Karns said banning fireworks above Siskiyou Boulevard and North Main Street would keep them farther away from the forested hills.

"I thought if we're going to have fireworks at all, at least let's put them on the side of town that doesn't jeopardize the interface and the watershed," he said.

Karns said fire and police departments don't have enough staff to adequately enforce the ban if approved.

The ban on fireworks above the boulevard would not affect the Ashland Chamber of Commerce's annual public fireworks show. Those fireworks are set off from Iowa Street, which is below the boulevard, Chambers said.

This year, Ashland suffered two fires caused by residents' personal use of fireworks. A fire below Siskiyou Boulevard burned vegetation, while a fire above the boulevard was caused by a person illegally throwing fireworks into the air, which then landed in a home's gutter and set leaf litter ablaze. Luckily, residents saw the fire in the gutter and put it out, Karns said.

In 2000, a house on Nezla Street above the boulevard was severely damaged by a fireworks-caused fire.

In 2003, Woodley reported to the City Council that there had been 11 fires caused by fireworks during a two-week window around the Fourth of July, a figure significantly higher than the previous year.

People who start a fire with fireworks could be liable for damages.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.