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Our View: Ashland is at risk as a bad fire season looms

Wildfire officials say conditions in the region's forests ahead of this summer's fire season are the worst in at least a quarter century. Barring some dramatic reversal in weather patterns, catastrophic wildfires are being described as inevitable this year.

That is of particular concern in Ashland, nestled as it is at the base of the Ashland Watershed with many homes at risk if a major fire should ignite there.

This winter has brought normal rainfall but precious little snow. Crater Lake has a snowpack of just 3 feet, a third of its normal level in early March. Weather Service meteorologists call that unprecedented.

Temperatures have been consistently above normal, and that is not expected to change as we head into spring and summer. The 2015 fire season is expected to start earlier, run longer and generate hotter fires than in even recent years, which were noted for severe conflagrations.

So it's good news that the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project has received $2 million in federal grants to continue work aimed at reducing fire risk in the watershed. Contractors will remove woody debris and brush while thinning the forest to make it more resistant to wildfire and lessen the risk of a catastrophic blaze that could threaten the entire city.

Meanwhile, Ashland residents must not become complacent about the risk. The watershed is popular with hikers and mountain bikers, who must be extra vigilant about fire danger. That goes for those who live in and near the forest as well.