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Illegal fireworks down this year in Rogue Valley

Fire officials said many Rogue Valley residents heeded warnings about hot, dry conditions and stopped using fireworks illegally during this year's Fourth of July festivities.

Medford Fire-Rescue Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal Greg Kleinberg and a police officer were patrolling Medford's hillsides on the night of the Fourth of July. Using fireworks is illegal in Medford's hills, city parks, along the Bear Creek Greenway and on school grounds.

"It seemed very quiet up there — which was a good thing," Kleinberg said.

He said residents in high-risk fire areas appear to be getting the message that fireworks are illegal and dangerous. The fire department mounted an educational campaign about fire risk, which included setting up electronic reader boards on McAndrews Road, Cherry Lane and Hillcrest Road with warnings about illegal fireworks use.

"It was a lot quieter up there. Three or four years ago, people were lighting them up all over, and the remains were in the street the next day," Kleinberg said.

Medford had a citywide ban on fireworks use but then switched to a partial ban in 2009, Kleinberg said.

"In the hazardous fire areas, people did very well this year," he said. "I hope as we enforce the law, year by year the use of illegal fireworks will be reduced. Every neighborhood is different. If a couple of people are shooting off fireworks, it will still feel like a war zone. But I think overall use of illegal fireworks was down."

Medford Fire-Rescue did respond to a fence fire Saturday on Seroba Circle in north Medford. The fire was allegedly sparked by a 16-year-old boy using fireworks. Firefighters also snuffed out a grass fire just past midnight Sunday in east Medford.

Jackson County Fire District No. 3 battled an apartment complex fire Saturday afternoon. The cause of that fire was undetermined, Deputy Fire Marshal Mark Northrop said Tuesday.

A fire that burned a tree and caused limited heat damage to a house in Eagle Point Sunday was caused by fireworks, Northrop said.

Still, he said fewer area residents appeared to be using aerial fireworks, which are illegal in all of Oregon.

"In my neighborhood, there was a significantly less amount of fireworks," said Northrop, who lives in Wimer. "Normally, it's illegal aerial fireworks everywhere. We had absolutely none that were illegal. We heard a couple big booms, but nothing crazy or illegal — which is encouraging."

In Ashland, which bans fireworks throughout town, Ashland Fire & Rescue Division Chief/Fire Marshal Margueritte Hickman said residents appeared to heed the message that fireworks, high temperatures and drought this year were a bad combination.

Ashland saw no fireworks-caused fires and people avoided illegal aerial fireworks, she said.

The city banned personal fireworks in 2009 after fireworks caused house fires in 2002 and 2009. Ashland also nestles into wildfire-prone forested hills that are home to the Ashland watershed, source of the city's water.

"In the first couple of years of the fireworks ban, we had a great response. Then last year, fireworks use was up," Hickman said.

This summer, people appeared to be using fewer fireworks, especially state-banned aerial fireworks, she said.

Hickman was stationed near an athletic field where the official Ashland fireworks display is held and said she saw no one shooting off their own personal aerial fireworks before the show began.

"There wasn't one this year, and we've never had that before," she said, adding that some personal aerial fireworks were set off after the show.

Hickman said aerial fireworks are dangerous for users as well as for surrounding properties.

"You don't know where those are going to end up. They can land on a roof. You don't have control where those go," she said. "There's also so much momentum and power when those go off people can lose fingers and other body parts."

Having made it through Fourth of July festivities, area fire departments remain on high alert.

The Southwest Oregon District is continuing to set new records for low fuel moisture levels for this time of year, the Oregon Department of Forestry reported early this week.

The National Weather Service is forecasting scattered lightning storms and showers in the Medford area Wednesday through Friday, followed by a mix of sunny and cloudy weather Saturday through Monday. Recent 100 degree-plus high temperatures will dip to highs in the low 90s and high 80s.

"It's not time to let down our guard," Hickman said. "We still have the majority of summer ahead, so continued diligent efforts to prevent fires are essential."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.