Ashland city officials tour charred Siskiyou fire zone

ASHLAND — Droppings on the ground showed that wild turkeys have been nibbling on new sprouts of green growing beneath trees that were charred by the Siskiyou fire on Ashland's outskirts.

Chris Chambers, forest resources specialist for Ashland Fire & Rescue, and Marty Main, the city's forestry consultant, identified the droppings during a Friday afternoon tour of the area burned by the 188-acre fire in September.

Eighty acres in the area had been treated to remove small-diameter trees and brush, providing a living laboratory to test the effectiveness of wildfire fuel hazard reduction work.

The city of Ashland has spent nearly $1 million, much of that from federal grants, to treat more than 2,000 acres in the forested hills in and around town, Chambers said.

Treatment areas inside the Siskiyou Fire zone showed blackened stumps of small trees mixed into the forest where crews worked to thin out little trees and brush from 2006 to 2008. Most of the areas that were thinned burned at low to medium intensity, compared to untreated areas that suffered from extreme intensity fire, Chambers said.

Charring on the tree trunks in much of the treated area showed that flames had licked up about 4 to 6 feet, compared to other areas where flames flared up to 50 feet high. Though many Douglas fir trees had brown needles, they still had green in their tops.

"There's not significant scorch up here, which means the canopy was not affected," Chambers said.

Those trees will have a chance of surviving, according to Main.

"There's a pretty good chance these guys will come back," he said.

Before the fire, crews took the trees they had thinned, piled them and burned them. Oddly, those burn pile areas, which still bear a few charred bits of wood, are seeing a surge of green sprouts.

Chambers said he can't explain the extra growth there, except to surmise that the small fires released nutrients back into the soil.

In other areas that were treated before the fire, the news wasn't as good. Black marks on tree trunks showed flames went up about 20 feet, and the trees showed more damage in their canopies.

Main said it's common for wildfire to vary in its intensity.

Main said even though the canopies are brown, at least the conifers have their needles left. Those needles have been dropping to the blackened forest floor, where they help to protect the soil.

Fire specialists won't find out how many trees survived the Siskiyou fire until spring, when trees put out their new greenery, Chambers said.

In two untreated areas where the fire burned at its hottest, the fir trunks are completely black and all their needles burned away.

Previous fuels reduction work, the efforts of firefighters and a shift in the wind kept the Siskiyou fire on the east side of upper Tolman Creek Road, where it burned in the Tolman Creek watershed and destroyed one home, said Chambers and Ashland fire Chief John Karns.

The boundary of the Ashland Creek watershed, source of the city's water supply, is one mile from the fire, Chambers said.

The burned area will serve as a laboratory for whether wildfire will lead to erosion on the loose, sandy soils that predominate in both the Tolman and Ashland Creek watersheds.

Chambers, Main and a U.S. Forest Service worker put down six sets of mats in the Siskiyou fire zone that they are monitoring to see how much eroded soil collects on the material.

"We can apply that to the Ashland watershed and see how much sedimentation would go into Reeder Reservoir," Chambers said.

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

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