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JPR Feature
Fire in the Ashland Watershed   
Friday August 19, 2005
By Marjorie O'Harra

Welcome to As It Was: Tales from the State of Jefferson

A fire that started on Saturday, August 8, 1959 charred more than 4,000 acres of forested mountain slopes above Ashland, Oregon, and burned to within 1,000 feet of homes bordering Lithia Park.

The first sign of trouble came when townspeople saw scorched oak leaves falling in their yards and a plume of smoke rising into the sky west of town. Flames swept up the hillsides above Jackson Hot Springs, exploding as they jumped from ridge to ridge.  Temperatures had topped 100 degrees for four days straight.

Men and bulldozers fought the wind-whipped blaze and airplanes dropped fire retardant.  Help for U.S. Forest Service, state, and local fire-suppression crews came from the National Guard and the timber industries. More than 600 firefighters worked on the fire crews. Townspeople did what they could to help as the fire threatened rural homes and the city watershed. They brought food, camping equipment, axes, shovels, and flashlights to the fire camp set up in Lithia Park.

As luck would have it, the winds died down and fire fighters were able to contain the blaze in two days. The first major fire to threaten Ashland in 49 years was believed to be arson caused.

Today's episode of As It Was was written by Marjorie O'Harra, the program engineer is Raymond Scully.  I'm Shirley Patton. As It was is a co-production of JPR and the Southern Oregon Historical Society.  To Share stories or learn more about the series visit asitwas - dot- org

Wyatt, Steve. "Ashland was center stage for '59 fire," Mail Tribune, Aug 25, 2002. O'Harra, Marjorie. Ashland: First 130 Years.

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