Emergency Service

Wildfire Shows Why NOT to Allow Foothills Homes

BLM chopper battles wildfire north of Eagle Wednesday

The terms are all too familiar…”structures are threatened…trying to get a handle on the fire…lightning caused…man caused…” tallies on the number of engines, tankers, retardant aircraft, helicopters, and hotshot crews from other locations.

The reason for the massive response is all too familiar as well–lives and property are endangered because people move into areas subject to wildfire and local politicos allow the development. GROWTHOPHOBES can complain forever, but it seems little changes and emergency crews are forced to respond as fire rages across the so-called “urban wilderness interface.”

At this writing it appears three homes are damaged or destroyed by a Wednesday fire believed to have been caused when lightning strikes dotted the landscape Wednesday morning north of Eagle. An estimated 2,500 acres which is currently targeted for residential development was scorched. One firefighter told the GUARDIAN, “It certainly wouldn’t be a pretty sight” if the area is developed as proposed.

At least 50 fire engines, 5 air tankers, and hundreds of firefighters from Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Star, BLM, etc. etc. are as the TV folks like to say, “On Scene!”

As a former editor at the trade journal “FIRE ENGINEERING,” the GUARDIAN is an old hand at covering fires and the fire service. Yellowstone’s Old Faithful firestorm was the worst. Over the years we find politicos put an unneeded burden on fire chiefs and firefighters alike when they increase the demands–and risks–all in the name of GROWTH. One issue which hampered emergency crews was also familiar: Police and Fire can’t communicate. The technology exists with the new radio communications system, but the players can’t seem to agree on who gets access to which frequencies.

On the bright side we saw one McMansion north of Beacon Light Rd. that survived a direct wildfire assault because the owners did the right things creating “defensible space.” From everything we observed and heard, the emergency responders did their jobs well battling the fire, traffic, and conducting evacuations.

Firewise planning saved this luxury home.

EDITOR NOTE–For all of you getting updates during the day about the fire from your favorite media outlet. It is a pretty sure bet most of it was funneled (not filtered) through the Boise PD/Boise FD spokeslady, Lynn Hightower. The GUARDIAN and all the rest of the media outlets got Lynn’s constant updates–sometimes as often as only 4 minutes apart. She provide important information to the media–and by extension the public–about the fire, damages, direction of travel, evacuation, etc. She also let the media folks know where they could get information at the scene without bothering commanders directing firefighters. At one point she even sent warnings to field reporters to avoid the path of the fire. From the GUARDIAN on behalf of all our colleagues we offer a hearty WELL DONE!

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Dr Spiegelvogel
    Jul 28, 2010, 7:43 pm

    You might call it a home but I see it as homage to garish taste and massive ego, probably to overcompensate for several personality disorders.

  2. serendipity
    Jul 28, 2010, 8:12 pm

    Too bad that one was spared…..
    hopelessly ugly, a blot on the hills.
    When will the P&Z ever learn?????

  3. sam the sham
    Jul 28, 2010, 8:15 pm

    For years as I have watched people building homes on islands on the Boise River (which have flooded with great regularity), in the foothills, in the dry areas around this desert town we call Boise I have watched the news of California homes sliding off of hills, being consumed by fire and other natural occurrences and wonder why “planning and zoning” of any area would ok the building of homes in such areas. I understand the greed of the developers and the idiocy of the home buyers… but really folks – if you choose to live in these areas then admit that you are willing to pay the price of loosing everything you have and let the people who are paid to take care of nature do that. Don’t ask them to put your stuff above what they are suppose to do.

  4. Clippityclop
    Jul 28, 2010, 8:41 pm

    Just imagine when wildfire hits Hidden Springs (not if, but when). It will be the Berkeley foothills all over again — those houses are so close together there will be no stopping it. And can you imagine trying to evacuate that area given the limited infrastructure? Mindboggling. The Ada County Commissioners who approved all of this development ought to be made to take a field trip to the Eagle BBQ so they have a hint of the inevitable.

  5. serendipity
    Jul 28, 2010, 9:39 pm

    ” The Ada County Commissioners who approved all of this development ought to be made to take a field trip to the Eagle BBQ so they have a hint of the inevitable.”

    They know very well what the risks are, but they don’t give d–n. Why? Because they have connections to the developers, one way or the other.

  6. When we look at the foothills, we see natural, open, majestic landscapes that make the Treasure Valley what it is. When the cities elected officials look at those same foothills, all they see is an increase in the tax base. When one of these developments goes up in flames and lives are lost, they will spout “we didn’t realize….”!

  7. I agree with the first two comments. That thing is hideous. Hell, Idaho has towns that aren’t that big.

    I live in a fairly sparsely populated area. When a wildfire came close to our house, I soaked the side toward the blaze as good as I could while my wife and a couple of people who stopped by to help loaded a few possessions into a vehicle and moved it and a few other things away from the house.
    While we sure hoped some firefighters or a retardant-dropper plane would show up and be able to save the house, we were prepared to drive away quickly if it caught fire.
    Would sure hate to lose our home and all those years of possessions, but we were aware when we bought the place that it could be endangered someday, and if the firefighters didn’t save it, I wouldn’t fault them.
    Eventually, though, some did show up, and told me they were going to try to stop the blaze before it got to the house, but that if it got so close the house was going to go, “We’re out of here.” They were not going to stay and endanger themselves by fighting the house fire.
    Made sense to me.
    But eventually by fighting the fire itself (which they need to do anyway to keep it from spreading on across the county and destroying numerous homes, businesses, etc.), they did keep it from getting to my house, for which I an very grateful.

  8. Can’t believe how poor channel 7s reporting was. It was passed Eagle and they were still reporting it was in Star. Turned to channel 2 and the coverage was right on with reporters in the mist of it.
    Channel 7 must have been in bed asleep cuddled up with all their awards.

  9. the home in the photo is obscene. Lynn Rogers, planning director, warned about residential expansion in Ada County in the 60s. His prophecy is coming true. Very sad situation. We have so much rain here in Minnesota fires aren’t a threat.

  10. Ban foothills construction. Say no to urban renewal. Just where in the heck are people going to live? Oh yeah, arable farm land makes perfect sense.

    This fire is yet more evidence in my arsenal that suburban expansion sucks tax money away from the urban areas. How much extra did it cost to protect those homes as opposed to fighting the fire out by Simco Road?

    This is why you should support urban renewal districts. The tax revenue created downtown gets to stay downtown rather than pay for air tankers, road blocks and evacuation shelters.

    EDITOR NOTE–Don’t know the fire makes a case for urban renewal, but you are correct outward growth sucks resources from those already here. As to “where are the gonna live?” There is a rather huge inventory of homes on the market.

    We can easily stop GROWING. Cancers grow and they are hardly considered “progress.” As to urban renewal–it is a great concept. Just don’t fund it on the backs of those who live outside the district…otherwise it is just like suburban growth sucking resources away.

  11. Ok guardian and guardian readers. Check this out. Using the Ada County Assessor’s website I took a look at 2 homes in the Skyline Subdivision area of the Eagle foothills.

    One on N Elaina Pl is a modest house(relatively speaking). Lot size = 10.11 acres. Total assessment = $504,000. Estimated 2010 taxes = $4613. That gives a annual property tax revenue of approximately 1 cent per square foot of land per year.

    Another on N Skyline is more of a luxury home. Land area = 10.015 acres. Total assessment = $1,206,600. Estimated 2010 taxes = $13,799. Approximate annual property tax revenue per square foot of land = 3 cents!

    Now, my average home near downtown pays 17 cents per square foot of land.

    What the heck? How can I pay 17 times more per square foot than an average property in the Eagle foothills and more than 5 times per square foot than a luxury property?

    If this isn’t an argument for a temporary secession that an Urban Renewal District affords, then I don’t know what is.

    EDITOR NOTE–Cynic, we have been over this in the past. Those Eagle properties you cite are yielding $13,000 in taxes. Your Boise lot is roughly 1/4 acre and yields something like $1200 in taxes if it is worth $100,000.

    Now here comes the kicker: In your neighborhood there are 40 lots on the 10 acres!
    Tax yield is $48,000, but DEMAND for services is 40 times that of the McMansion…sewer, police, fire, parks, schools, etc.

    With an average of just 3 people per residence your 40 city lots create a population of 120 folks who send kids to school, poop in the sewer, drive cars, crowd the parks, etc. Your urban renewal-Eagle comparison creates 40 times the demand for services with only 3.6 times the revenue. And then you want to take those lots–presumably more valuable after rehab etc.–off the tax tolls!

    This is WHY people build foothills McMansions and places like Eagle encourage it.

  12. Lynn Hightower is a spokesperson for both BPD and BFD. I wonder which budget supports her salary.

    How does that work Guardian?
    Could you please inquire and get back to us? I know how you love to report on the excessive public relations department of Boise City Council.

  13. As I look at the spared hilltop palace, the recurring thought: “What happens in Vegas-on-the-hill, stays in Vegas-on-the-hill…”

    I was blessed to grow up in one of the first foothills developments – Aldape Heights, just up Reserve Street from St. Luke’s. I guess maybe we just got lucky – our house was never threatened by a wildfire. I can certainly understand the appeal of living in those wide-open spaces; the feeling was that my yard went all the way to the Boise Ridge! (For me, it was Kid Heaven.)

    But on the other hand, what is the city/county responsibility, in allowing continued growth? Should it be severely restricted, or should it be a matter of “buyer beware”? You buys youze house, you pay for youze fire insurance, and you takes youze chances? I don’t know the answer.

  14. sam the sham
    Jul 29, 2010, 12:13 pm

    bikeboy – when we were kids there were just not that many folks living in Boise, so a few homes here and there were not really an issue.
    It’s the number of people who are in the area that is having the great impact.
    A few people and their dogs in the foothills were never a problem.
    A few homes in the foothills, again, not a problem.

  15. Re:Guardian’s response to cynic,

    Yes higher demand but lower operating/maintenance cost/parcel. What happens when sewer lines need major upgrading at the McMansion on 10 acres? It will be subsidized by the higher density areas. No right or wrong, it just shows Peter gets robbed to pay Paul and Paul gets robbed to pay Peter.

    EDITOR NOTE–Clancy, you well understand. On KBOI radio this morning a caller advocated building foothills homes to help the economy while another said if there were more houses there would be less chance for fire!

  16. Heck, I’m still trying to figure out how my homes value for city valuation dropped 20% yet my tax rose from before the drop??

    EDITOR NOTE–Stop worrying Jim! The city increased spending by the maximum 3%.

  17. I fail to see why wildfires in the foothills should prevent the building of homes there as suggested by the title. Like we do for flood plains, let insurance companies know about wild fire zones, so they can charge more for insurance, and put the home owners on notice that fire protection will seek to save lives from structures, but fighting the fire will be more of a BLM-like response not city fire dept issue and their home may be lost.

  18. Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem. You buld a house out there then expect the possibility of a burn out. Fighting fires in these zones is a wast of taxpayers monoey. Let those willing to risk it all keep a defesnseable area around their homes and let it burn.

    If it doesn’t burn now it will later and with more ferocity than now as fuels build up over time.

  19. JJ: You said well in a few words what I was getting at with a whole lot of words.
    When I bought this place, I knew what the possibilities were: wildfire, mudslides, animals tearing things up, etc. I accepted those risks to be able to live on a site i love (near a hill, not on it, though).

  20. This story falls flat on giving a reason why there should NOT be building in the foothills since the only acreage to survive the fire was developed and had a houses sitting on it.

    I live in Eagle, on the bench, about a mile from the downtown core. We’re the suburbs through and through yet a fire could start and be driven by the winds from cottonwood tree to cottonwood tree and multiple homes would be affected. It doesn’t have to be a grassland fire that takes down a community.

  21. Guardian: What is your source for the 40 times the services? Sure, there may be 30 to 40 times the density but are you saying costs rise proportionately? I’m pretty sure it’s not a linear equation.

    Yes there will be greater demand for schools but suburban development has placed a greater demand for roads. I would like to see the costs of fighting foothills fires compared to valley fires.

    EDITOR NOTE–Cynic, of course it is not a “tit for tat” comparison, but there are more cars, sewer, water, electric hookups. More crime calls (both victim and criminal), more ambulance etc. We agree with you about disproportionate costs for fires in foothills…same when it comes to protecting homes on Eagle Island and riverside areas from flood.

  22. Also, regarding schools: The vast majority of students at Whittier Elementary are bused from Garden City, they do not come from the West Downtown neighborhood. The majority at Lowell Elementary come from north of State St. Madison Elementary was closed years ago and is now a Head Start facility, I’m not sure how much BSD contributes to Head Start facilities.

    Another thing about West Downtown is the fact that roughly 60% of properties are rentals. Yes, rentals consume more services but they also pay more in property taxes.

  23. GR8 T8R: Lynn Hightower is a grossly overpaid employee of the Boise Police Department. Not sure why she designated herself the PIO of the Eagle fire. Perhaps it is the same as when Nampa Fire PIO Doug Strosnider made himself the designated speaker of the Middleton High school fire.

    EDITOR NOTE–Hightower helps with PR at BFD just like the Navy helps the Army for no additional wage or fee. When former Deputy Chief Dave Hanneman left there was a void at the FD. Fire does its own PIO except on these biggies. Cops also direct traffic at fires and this is no different.

  24. Clippity: Well said.

    Clancy and JJ: No sewer lines out here…at least yet…septic tanks. And our fire rates already reflect a 9 hazard rating on a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being worst danger. We’re wildland/urban interface, in which more humans in range fire land traslates to greater risk.

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