Boise Fires Like A Gut Punch

Sitting in heart of Spain´s Basque country in an internet cafe, I checked the Daily Paper and my gut is sick when I read of the fires and Mary Ellen Ryder, a linguistic professor from Boise State University.

If it is the lady  who frequented the Moxie Java on Vista, I can say she was a friend and I didn´t even know her name…her passion for the study of linguistics was obvious as she “held court” on the outside patio.  Hope it wasn´t her, but I am afraid it was. UPDATE 8/27: (It was her)

The fire, loss of life, and loss of all that is personal in a home are horrible.  I notice folks are already trying to “start a fund” to express their grief and support.  Tragedy  brings out the best in all of us. 

Without regard to your faith or lack of it, if you want to see how relief should be handled, take a look at what I am sure the LDS church does in the next 24 hours or so.

During the Teton Dam disaster, I was there for TIME Magazine among others and will always remember the ISP trooper (a Mormon) telling me, “The Church was here immediately helping out–not just Mormons, but Civilians too!”

Nothing cute about this one, but as a rabid GROWTHOPHOBE we knew it was just a matter of time.  Homes crowded together, shake roofs, riparian zones full of dry fuel are a recipe for disaster. 

After the immediate needs of the community and those who suffered losses are met, it is time to unite on the issues of increased density, urban wilderness interface, building codes, and rampant growth in areas better left to mother nature.  These tragedies can be averted and more firefighters and equipment is NOT the answer.

From all we can gather across the sea, the BFD and BPD are once again as always HEROES.

Please try to keep the comments on topic and we will do our best to post them as we skip from town to town in Spain.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. I presume you are in favor of increased density? I was not sure from your post.

    At this time, it appears that an Idaho Power power poll and associated gizmos on it are to blame for starting the fire. What caused the poll to explode is unknown. It was clear last night listening to some witnesses that a loud explosion was heard right before the fire started.

    Is Idaho Power self-insured? How will this be handled???

    EDITOR NOTE–Not in favor of increased density. Fire most likely was a result of arcing caused by the extreme winds whipping the wires. Don´t know if there was lightning. Any way you cut it, it was an ACT OF NATURE.

  2. Dave:

    Ktvb now has a picture of the victim on their website.

    I live in the wind sheltered north end area and I can tell you the wind that came through was incredible.

    Many of you are anti-gov’t, but in this case, building codes banning shake roofs, banning arborvitae plantings and the ban of overhanging eaves may have gone a long way in preventing the destruction. However, the heat from the burning slope may have been enough to ignite wood framing protected by non-combustible stucco.

    Perhaps an annual controlled burn of that slope is now warranted as well.

  3. The Boise Picayune
    Aug 26, 2008, 2:37 pm

    My heart goes out to the families that lost so much – including a loved one – in this devastating fire.

    Most tragic perhaps, is how avoidable it almost certainly was.

    Back in the late 80’s /early 90’s when I worked the wildfires, I was often amazed at how many homeowners had their heads-in-the-sand regarding their homes vulnerability.

    Shake roofs, a cord of wood up against the house alongside gas cans, zero firescaping, etc…

    I often wondered (sometimes aloud) why they didn’t just dowse the property in kerosene and get it over with.

    Evidently, not much was learned from the Foothills Fire of ’96, and I suspect the lessons from this fire will also be soon forgotten.

    Bravo’ and Brava’ to the exceptionally brave men and women of the various fire agencies that risked all fighting this fire.

  4. A terrible tradgedy indeed. Ask any fireman in the valley what will happen in some of those tight subdivisions when a hot wind blows down a bar-b-que or a roof catches fire. Can you say firestorm?
    My heart goes out to those people.

  5. I will agree with you that more can be done to educate homeowners of the need to construct denfensible spaces around there homes particularly in our urban interface regions. This devistation is not a growth issue. It’s not like this sprawl took place last year. These homes have been in place for sometime. A freak set of circumstances led to this. My hat’s off to the men and women of BFD and BPD as well as neghiboring jurisdictions that helped combat this disaster.

  6. You were exactly right about the LDS church. They really do have it to a science. They quickly offered a place for people to gather and get organized, to food and clothing for the families the second this tragedy happened. I must say that this was definitely a tragedy to our community that won’t ever be forgotten. As far as the growth comment, I think that was a little off base in an “I told you so,” sense. Our families thoughts and prayers go out to those families suffering, especially the Ryder family.

  7. Gosh, why don’t you just come out and hand all of us “that blue book”. I would have never guessed you were Mormon. If you are, file that blue book with your ten speed and name tag in a file called been there and fooled before. If your not, why don’t you just say what needs to be said to the other “possibly worthy? faiths” Step up and take action as needed!

    EDITOR NOTE–I am not, never have been, never will. However, I have seen ém in action in these circumstances. Faith isn´t the issue here, it is a vast organization.

  8. Mr. Guardian, when I saw your positive comment about the “Mormon” Church, I knew there would be some visceral reaction in one form or another. But as a member of that organization (5th generation), I appreciate your acknowledgment. What you say is true, but the Church doesn’t blow their horn about it.

    (Apparently “Brxp” missed the part about your hanging out at the coffee shop. Us “Mormons” don’t do that a lot, since we’re not coffee drinkers. And we probably miss out.)

    Media notes: As you can imagine, KTVB milked the story for all it’s worth. They fancy themselves “the station that cares,” and this disaster gave ’em the chance to put that concern on display. (KIVI has even given it a name – “Boise Blaze 08.” Seems a little over the top to me.)

  9. My thoughts and prayers to the Ryder family for their loss. Boise has now seen what communities in California have lived with for years, a Wildfire in the WUI (Wildland urban interface). This fire was a combination of many factors. High winds, heavy fuel load in some areas, terrain, no defensible space around homes…all a recipe for disaster. We the homeowners prepared it?, was Boise Fire prepared for it?, likely not. This should be a wake up call for future development in communities. Kudos to the Firefighters and Law Enforcement involved in suppressing this fire.

  10. Honestly, I am a bit confused. Increasing density is a good way to reduce travel, gasoline consumption, etc. I do not consider Columbia Village or that particular area to be “dense” in terms of development–that is sprawl, which I do not like. When I think of increased density, I think of cities that are compact, with bigger apartment buildings, condos, etc., and less homes with great big yards filled with non-native vegetation and ultra-complex sprinkler systems. At any rate, I thought increased density was the rallying cry of “growthophobes.” Maybe we’re just defining the term differently…

  11. Livin' on the Edge
    Aug 27, 2008, 10:48 am

    Whether your support growth or not,
    Every community on the “edge” of the wilderness needs to consider strategies in landscape design and construction methods to keep their residents safe.


    Unfortunately a lot of growth happened before planners and developers really started thinking about protection from wildfires.

    Mr. Guardian, I was shocked at your “LDS” comment…you rabble-rouser you! I understand it was simply a statement of curious fact validated by what I saw on KTVB’s coverage. They were interviewing evacuees inside of an LDS building’s gymnasium.

    Religion aside, there sure are a lot of darn good folks around here and its great to see thoughts and prayers in action!

  12. Correct me if I am wrong, but the lack of defensible space, poor firescaping, etc is an issue whether your suburban, WUI, or true wildland/in dem dar hills…. and not limited to the inhabitants of SE Boise.
    The average citizens ability to live in denial is universal in this day and age.

    Imagine having this conversation if one of bFD or BPD died saving a building because the owner was to lazy to mow his back yard back 30 more feet?

    IIRC from my sparse wildland training, proper firescaping as well as proper design of the building reduces fire damage and losses by something in the order of 90%. Seems to me that an approach would be to change (or inforce) building and city codes, and make the homeowners responsible for their lack of planning and expendature of rescources.

    Used to be that those who lived in Idaho were known for their common sense and self reliance…but its a state of denial until the enemy is at the gate, then run around futilly, getting in the way, until someone else bails us out of our own self inflicted mess all the while screaming “why me?!?!?!)

  13. Lisa, I’m sure everyone shares your sentiments with regard to how sorry we are at a loss of life in this. It must have been pure hell for those who lost their homes. I must disagree with the part of your statement that questioned the preparedness of the Fire and Police departments. Your assessment that the homeowners did not have an adequate defense zone around their homes is correct, but at the same time, I believe it was a miracle that the BPD were able to get all but one of the citizens out of the area safely. The truly amazing thing is that the BFD was able to stop this where they did. The fact that they were able to limit this to the area they did was truly heroic! That set of circumstances could have easily taken the majority of Columbia Village! We are fortunate , as a community, to have such dedicated professionals serve us! We owe them a great deal of thanks and gratitude for the job they did, and continue to do.

  14. curious george
    Aug 27, 2008, 8:42 pm

    I’m confused. How would the professor’s death in a house fire have been avoided if growth had been managed differently? I mean, how is this a growth issue at all?

    I know, if the house had never been built the family could never have lived there and, ipso facto, they could never have then been at risk. But they still would have had to live somewhere — right? But the Guardian is not in favor of increased density so they couldn’t have lived somewhere else in the city. I know, if the woman had never been born she could never have faced such a tragic death.

    So “growthaphobe” means: Advocating for a forced reduction in population (at least in the Boise Area). Perhaps the Guardian would like to offer the ideal population for the Treasure Valley — perhaps somewhere around the 1970 Census level (or the population of the area right after he moved here)?

    Since the Guardian is using this death to trumpet his cause, he must also be tacitly embracing the idea that (tragic as it is) it was the direct result of not heeding his phobic warnings (“… as a rabid GROWTHAPHOBE we knew it was only a matter of time.” BG) — as if the professor’s death was somehow deserved.

    Ouch man…

    I didn’t realize that there could be such a thing as a back-handed expression of sympathy.

    EDITOR NOTE–Curious George, you are flat out of line! Growth for the sake of growth benefits ONLY the developers and the other bloodsuckers connected to it.

  15. Sam the sham
    Aug 28, 2008, 12:23 am

    Thank you for mentioning Mary Ellen. She was a good person. My heart goes out to her husband Peter.

  16. Unless you live in a 5th generation teepee all of you “GROWTHOPHOBES” are a bit hipocritical

  17. Cyclops, it wasn’t just Boise Fire, there were a lot of mutual aid resources involved from all over the Treasure Valley. I didn’t question Boise Fire’s efforts. No Fire Depart, Career of Volunteer could be fully ready for such a confligration. Boise Fire did a fine job with their 3 man engine companies and their Type1 Engines (structural) with 500 gallon water tanks but so did the numerous other fire departments and agencies involved in the fight. I’m sure there were a lot of lessons learned and hopefully those will be used for future incidents. With the amout of fire involved, the speed of the fire, the threat to life ect, the captains and chiefs had a lot to deal with. Are homeowners safe and can they be safely evacuated?, Structure Triage (which homes can be saved with minimal threat to firefighters), Water Supply ie: Hydrants or “Bump n Run” off the booster tank (you can empty that 500 gallon b tank in 2 minutes), Tenders aka “Water Tankers”, Air Support (though high winds cancel air support when needed). I’m sure Boise Fire Chain of Comman did the best they could with what they had available.

  18. bert farber
    Aug 28, 2008, 9:41 am

    does anybody know how come there was no air attack on the fires? Or maybe there was? I’m just curious. Maybe the winds kept aircraft grounded.

  19. bert farber
    Aug 28, 2008, 9:46 am

    Also. Mr. Guardian, another question..or pregunta..as they say in Espana..Since you been a longtime news junkie and photo-grapher..can you remember a fire this destructive in modern Boise history? I been here a long time too and can’t think of one with so much damage and so sadly the loss of a life…not the Eastman Bldg..not 8th street fire…Old Owyhee hotel…search your brain, Senor Guardian, and go easy on the vino.

    EDITOR NOTE–It probably stacks up as worst in my fading memory of 40 years. The OXFORD hotel was a big one–NOT Owyhee.

  20. Regarding an “air attack,” I’m certainly no expert but I’d speculate:
    – It was up and raging so suddenly that half those houses were on fire before somebody could’ve even called it in.
    – 40mph winds would definitely have an impact on airplane takeoffs, I’m thinking, and also on retardant drops.
    – I don’t ever remember seeing that stuff being dropped over a heavily-populated area. That red slurry stuff – I once heard what it’s made of and it’s not pleasant – is probably a mess. Dunno about water – probably potential for “collateral damage” there, too.

  21. Nice Werner, I’ve said similar things on here and I’ve yet to hear a response. 🙂

    I wonder what would’ve happened here if the house out there were in a denser configuration?

    I think most people would like to see a more structured growth plan that contained urban sprawl but a few just hate all things developer. Words thrown around like “bloodsuckers” don’t help much. Developers do what they do to make money, what a shock. Dave, when you were covering the Teton flood were you doing it on a volunteer basis or were you a “bloodsucker” taking advantage of people’s misery in order to make a buck? (Tongue in cheek of course, it was something that the press needed to cover. However, people need shelter too.)

    Maybe an article that clearly stated your position on growth would be helpful. The long time readers have a good idea of your views but there are new readers all the time. I think it would be an interesting article for everyone.

    EDITOR NOTE–I am in Spain trying to make a buck off the local populace. Just do a GROWTH search to get the picture. Short version is: if we have to PAY businesses come here, they aren´t worth having…that goes for downtown, retail and big “job producer” manufacturing. Not much success with concessions government has made so far (Albertson, Micron, HP, etc.)
    We built an economy on GROWTH and it was doomed to fail at some time as you can´t grow forever.

  22. The winds were too high for any kind of air drop.

  23. Regarding any type of Air Support, helicopter won’t fly in winds 30+ mph, I think its the same with Air Tankers or close. Plus the terrain in winds makes it all that much dangerous.

  24. You never have an air attack on a structure, with a sparse few exceptions. All the water will kill a firefighter, and in this case, the planes couldn’t see the firefighters and policemen, and it’s almost impossible to aim the water in those winds. There were too many people involved for an air attack, even without adding in the winds.

  25. Some amazing footage from the fire.


  26. bert farber
    Sep 2, 2008, 10:22 am

    Thanks for the comments on why no aircraft were involved in fighting the fire. Explains a lot. What a sad situation.

  27. AntiGuardian
    Sep 4, 2008, 2:26 pm

    Well, thank GOD for the LDS church! I am sure you are aware of the GIANT efforts of many groups, volunteers and citizens that came to the aid of those who lost homes and lives in the fire, who may or may not be Mormans….who cares. They were there as human beings to help in a terrible situation.
    I am not bashing Mormans (I come from a LONG family line of Mormans) but, your comment was ridiculous and quite frankly a slap in the face to ALL the organizations and people that stepped up to help.
    And where were you? Oh, that’s right….touring Spain…making a buck off someone else’s misery!
    You took a terrible event and as usual, with your underhanded comments, turned it into something ugly.

  28. The Guardian did not bash or discredit all of the other agencies and citizens that came to help. All he did was point out an organization (my church in this case) that knows how to handle these situations, and has had quite the record doing so. His comment was not ridiculous and quite frankly a slap in the face to ALL the organizations and people that stepped up to help”, it was simply an observation. Dave has not turned it into something ugly. The Guardian did not turn this story into something ugly. He did what he does best: gave us his opinion. If you don’t like it, fine, but you’re pushing it with the “ridiculous” part.

  29. AntiGuardian
    Sep 8, 2008, 12:34 pm

    “All he did was point out an organization (my church in this case) that knows how to handle these situations, and has had quite the record doing so.”

    Maybe you should read my entry again, because apparently you did not understand the words or you are putting your own spin on what I said. I never said the LDS church does not step up when people need help, they do alot of good for people in need.

    It is RIDICULOUS to credit ONE group for ‘saving the day’.
    I AM personally affected by the fires and I am saying there were many groups helping and many private citizens helping and his comments undermined that.

    “Nothing cute about this one, but as a rabid GROWTHOPHOBE we knew it was just a matter of time. Homes crowded together, shake roofs, riparian zones full of dry fuel are a recipe for disaster.

    Guess the next ‘opinion’ is going to be that the Jamacian’s deserved what Hurricane IKE did to the island …. “how dare they live on a paradise island..it is just a matter of time and a recipe for disater”

    He couldn’t just talk about what a tragedy this fire was and leave it at that?!! Just had to put an “it’s your fault for living there” zinger in to show the level of compassion of The Boise Guardian.
    Apparently, opinions, that don’t agree with the so-called-guardian, are not allowed….hummmm……

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