When the smoke had cleared from the 2008 Oregon Trail Fire (which destroyed 10 homes, damaged nine others and killed a resident), local, state and federal officials launched a call to action for homeowners and community developers to become more "firewise."
While the 2008 damage to the Southeast Boise neighborhood was considerable, firefighters said the blaze could have easily threatened a 1,000 home subdivision.
Yet three years later, a survey of more than 500 Foothills East neighborhood homes revealed that the majority of residents are at high wildfire risk. Of 567 homes surveyed in the neighborhood between Military Reserve and Castle Rock Reserve, a staggering 98 percent were rated as "high risk" or worse. Of those, 39 percent were rated as "very high risk" or worse and 13 percent as "extreme" risk.
"The findings were quite significant," said Jennifer Tomlinson of Boise's Planning and Development Services Department. "We're sending out postcards to all of the homeowners now so that they can access the data."
The City of Boise, Bureau of Land Management and an organization called FIRE-up (Field Inquiry Research Experience) formed a partnership to conduct the wildfire-hazard assessment. Teams of high-school students fanned out through the neighborhood in June, collecting data on vegetation and structures in and around the Foothills. They then plugged their data into software known as Red Zone to calculate each home's hazard value.
Certain categories involving building materials sent some homes straight to the top of the "high-risk" list. For example, if roofing material was made of wood shakes, a home would be assessed 25 points vs. a home with asphalt or composite on its roof, which resulted in three points. If a home had dense vegetation within 300 feet, it would accumulate 20-25 points. If the home's defensible space was less than 30 feet from the structure, 25 points would be assessed. If a home accumulated more than 40 points, it was rated "high," more than 80 points was "very high," and more than 100 points was "extreme."
"Ultimately, our goal is to survey as much of the Boise Front as we can," said Tomlinson. "There are some 6,800 homes in the Wildland Urban Interface."
Tomlinson told Citydesk that if funding was available, more housing surveys would be conducted next summer.
"I encourage all citizens whose homes are evaluated to make the needed adjustments to prevent tragedy from striking again," said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter.
The FIRE-up summer program, now in its eighth year, is for high schoolers who want to earn transferable Northwest Nazarene University college credits by completing research programs about wildfire.