The effects that the Oak Knoll Fire had on Ashland 12 years later

ASHLAND, Ore. – It’s been 12 years since the Oak Knoll Fire destroyed 11 homes in an east Ashland neighborhood.

The Oak Knoll Fire may have only burned around 14 acres of land.

However, the small fire had a profound affect on a community that continues to think about the fire, 12 years later.

“Usually our grass fires amount to an acre or two,” Ashland wildfire division chief Chris Chambers said. “That one went really really differently.”

12 years ago on August 24, firefighters were called to respond to a grass fire near oak knoll road near I-5 in southeast Ashland.

But once they got there, things changed dramatically.

“We got here and realized it was really something bigger,” Chambers said. “The flames were really intense. Crews were having a hard time getting ahead of the fire.”

According to Ashland Fire and Rescue, an ember spark traveled roughly 1,100 feet across I-5, spreading to the Oak Knoll neighborhood.

11 homes burned down and only a couple homeowners still live there today.

The staff at one local insurance company were trapped in their office for hours by the flames.

“Our office was actually on Washington street so we were right near where the fire started,” Reinholdt and O’Harra insurance owner Greg White said. “We ended up stuck at the office, couldn’t leave because there was only one way out. And the fact that the fire jumped the freeway, shocked everyone.”

White said his company processed around 20 claims varying from total losses to smoke damage from the fire.

“We had clients evacuating, some older folks literally just getting out barefoot,” White said. “Because they had to go. It was time for them to leave and they lost everything that they had.”

Ashland Fire and Rescue says the Oak Knoll Fire was a wake up call for many.

Several fire prevention initiatives, such as the fire wise community program, were launched in the wake of the fire.

One of the most important outcomes, according to chambers, was the addition of fire codes governing all new construction in the city.

“That’s been a really big improvement that we’ve seen here,” Chambers said. “Not a lot of communities through all those code adoptions. But Oak Knoll is part of our story as to why Ashland did that.”

Ashland Fire and Rescue says everyone should sign up for the city’s Nixle alert system to say up-to-date on any emergencies and have a plan to be ready at a moment’s notice.

NBC5 News reporter Zachary Larsen grew up in Surprise, Arizona. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. At ASU, Zack interned at Arizona Sports 98.7FM and Softball America. During his Junior year, Zack joined the ASU Sports Bureau. He covered the Fiesta Bowl, the Phoenix Open and major basketball tournaments. Zack enjoys working out, creative writing, music, and rooting for his ASU Sun Devils.
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