Two off-duty Ashland firefighters spent the night stranded in a snow cave after mechanical problems and fierce winter weather descended on their snowmobiling trip Sunday.
Rescuers found Bill Earl and Don Manning at about 10 a.m. Monday after searching through the night in extreme cold, falling snow and winds that created whiteout conditions on the northwest slopes of Mount Ashland.
The storm dumped up to 10 inches of snow in parts of Jackson and Josephine counties, causing accidents on highways and byways, downing trees in Ashland and knocking out power to customers scattered across the region. Traffic stopped on Interstate 5 at Blackwell Hill on Sunday night when three semitrucks and two passenger vehicles tangled near the Foley Lane bridge construction project. No one was seriously injured. Schools were closed throughout Jackson County Monday.
More winter storms were expected overnight, Thursday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
Off-duty firefighters Earl and Manning called for help at about 4 p.m. Sunday after one of their snowmobiles broke down, Jackson County Undersheriff Rod Countryman said.
The two had been riding in a remote area frequented by snowmobilers between forest roads 20 and 2040. They called 9-1-1, reaching a dispatch center in Northern California, which then relayed the message back to Jackson County.
Four snowmobiles and four snowcats set out to find them, creeping through blinding, blowing snow. Searchers periodically had to stop and don snowshoes to check around the vehicles to make sure they didn't pass the men they were seeking, Countryman said.
"It was just a whiteout," he said. "They worked through the night. It was slow going."
Earl and Manning were described as experienced outdoorsmen who were well prepared to go into the woods. They had food, water and cold-weather gear. Sheriff's Lt. Pat Rowland said the pair dug out a "proper snow cave" and built a fire.
Rescuers found the men at about 10 a.m. Monday. Both were in good condition and uninjured. They were unavailable to the Mail Tribune for comment Monday.
Sunday afternoon, search and rescue teams also responded to the Hyatt Lake area for a family of eight that was late getting back from a trip to play in the snow. The family reported in just as searchers arrived in the area, but teams then spent four hours helping stranded motorists along the mountain roads, Rowland reported.
In Ashland, a tree more than 100 years old at the corner of Beach and Ashland streets split in half Sunday from the weight of snowfall that collected in its green boughs, knocking out power for several hours and barricading Ashland Street until Monday afternoon.
The interior live oak, named Ashland Tree of the Year in 1991, was partially rotten in the center. The weight of the snow on branches fractured it from the top to the roots, leaving a cavity in the ground.
"It looked like it had rot inside, but the leaves also act as a net holding the weight of the snow," said David Tygerson, an electrical lineman, as he surveyed the damage.
The abrupt, heavy snow, about 6 to 7 inches thick Monday morning at the lowest elevations in Ashland, damaged multiple power lines throughout the city, causing outages. Tygerson and other city linemen worked through the night to restore electricity to residents and businesses.
"This storm kind of blindsided everybody and it got pretty treacherous out there," said Capt. Bob Cockle of Ashland Fire and Rescue. The department called in extra people to handle calls and had a snowplow and sander ready to escort emergency crews anywhere in the city, he said.
Ashland resident Ted Garrison said he had been at home from work for only 20 minutes Sunday when he heard a crash outside. A fir tree had collapsed under the weight of the snow, tearing off Garrison's front porch and a live power line and crushing a vehicle parked next door. The roots of the tree tore up the concrete floor of the porch.
Firefighters responded to the scene and blocked off access until the line could be removed.
The city opened an emergency shelter for homeless residents late Sunday at Pioneer Hall on Winburn Way. The First Presbyterian Church at the corner of Walker and Siskiyou Boulevard was set to serve as the shelter Monday night. Those in need of a warm place to spend tonight can call 541-552-2378.
Many businesses in Ashland were closed Monday because of the snow. Others, such as Mix sweet shop, enjoyed a steady trickle of customers who had the day off.
"I walked here to enjoy the snow," said Marie Mannatt, a teacher at Pinehurst School. "Everyone I saw stopped to talk. Winter is a time to slow down and look within. Today, we are doing what we should be doing."
While young and old alike celebrated a day off from work and school, a group of Medford gas station workers used the snowy occasion to remember a friend and co-worker, Geoffrey Fennell.
The night crew at the Shell station at Rogue Valley Mall built a snowman and dressed it in Fennell's uniform vest. The 25-year-old was struck by an intoxicated driver near Mr. Smith's bar on East Jackson Street on Jan. 11. Fennell, who had been a cashier and pump attendant at the station for three years, died two days later from injuries suffered in the crash.
"He was one of a kind," said Brad Bedingfield, the station's assistant manager. "He had a different type of sense of humor."
On Monday morning, Medford resident Ron Bucher and his 10-year-old grandson, Jordan Bucher, used the Vista Pointe development off East McAndrews Road as a sledding hill. Jordan was getting the hang of how to lean into a turn, and wanted more time to perfect his technique.
"I want a snow day tomorrow," said Jordan.
Pacific Power reported scattered power outages in Jackson County. Trouble with a transmission line knocked out power for 3,089 customers in the White City and the Dodge Bridge area between 12:45 and 2:15 a.m. Monday. Falling tree limbs knocked down lines near a Roxy Ann power substation at about 2:35 a.m., leaving 977 customers without electricity for about an hour until repairs were made.
Reporter Sanne Specht also contributed to this story.