USA — Five years after the Oregon Trail Fire destroyed 10 homes, damaged 9 others, and killed one person in the Boise foothills, firefighters and landowners say they’ve learned lessons and are getting proactive to cut down on dangerous fire fuel.
Officials say fifty-mile-per-hour winds and equipment failure at an Idaho Power power pole were to blame for that devastating and fatal fire that started and spreading back in 2008.
Idaho Power working to reduce the risk of future fires
Idaho Power has spent the last five years since the fire voluntarily lessening the risk of fire spreading on their open land that stretches between power equipment and homes.
“Where the fire emanated from before was one of [the] single pole, small structures, and we’ve done a number of remediation activities to reduce that risk, but still it’s an open area in the middle of town with all these power lines, so there is a risk here,” said Brett Dumas, Idaho Power Environmental Supervisor. “We want to make sure that we do our part to make sure what happened five years ago doesn’t happen again.”
Idaho Power has used a number of different methods to create a wide stretch of defensible space between the equipment and houses. They want to replace current brush and weeds with plants that are less likely to burn.
“What we’re trying to do is establish plants in here that are real tolerant to burning, that have a low likelihood of carrying fire,” Dumas said.
We Rent Goats contracted to help reduce fire fuel
Idaho Power contracted with local company “We Rent Goats” to graze down the vegetation so new plants can be put down in the winter.
Tim and Lynda Linquist brought around 250 goats out to the property, along with three dogs to guard the animals. Those goats are eating down about two acres of weeds every day.
“So if a fire was to start, what the goats accomplish is it’s going to be a significant fire break. The fire’s going to die down, it’s going to be a lot slower, giving the landowner time to think and the fire department to respond,” Tim Linquist said.
We Rent Goats has a number of clients including several government agencies. The goats can get into areas where other equipment can’t go and Linquist says goats digest seeds, so not only do they eat the plant, the animals help get rid of potential for regrowth.
“They can work on the sides of these hills where you wouldn’t want to put a tractor. You’d have to have a hand crew come in and do the work, and the goats are very well adapted to being on steeps slopes and rocky areas,” Linquist said.
Boise Fire Department working with others to make ‘firewise communities’
Boise Fire Captain Jerry McAdams and others make up a Wildfire Mitigation Team that meets to discuss issues like what happened in the Oregon Trail Fire and how to better protect homes. They’ve worked with a number of ideas to cut down on fire danger and increase defensible space at homes and on open land.
“It was a tragic fire. The potential exists for a much worse fire on the Boise front, and I don’t think that people really quite understand that,” said Captain Jerry McAdams, Boise Fire Department Wildfire Mitigation Coordinator. “So [we are] educating these homeowners, and neighborhood associations, homeowners associations, and trying to get them to buy into firewise principles is very, very important.”
Four communities in Boise are now recognized as “firewise”, and McAdams says two more will be soon. McAdams says becoming a recognized firewise community is easy for a neighborhood to get together and accomplish.
Idaho Power plans to continue working with the goats in the future if the results are what they and the nearby homeowners are looking for.