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Goose Fire highlights fire coverage gap in northwest Boise

Neighbors said the Goose Fire highlights a bigger problem in the Treasure Valley, where cities are slow to build infrastructure as they grow rapidly.

BOISE, Idaho — The Goose Fire began at about 5 p.m. on Oct. 6, 2021, in the area of Idaho Highway 55 and Beacon Light Road, near the Eagle Sports Complex and a number of houses.

All active flames were knocked down by that night, according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Crews remained at the scene overnight but were aided by late-night rainfall.

The Goose Fire destroyed 441 acres of the Foothills and forced many residents, including long-time resident Bob West, to evacuate their homes.

Several of West's neighbors down the hill, including Richard Llewellyn, stayed to protect their homes. Llewellyn and his neighbors said they were protecting their homes for about 30 minutes before firefighters reached them.

Dozens of crews from across the Treasure Valley first prioritized saving lives and property in the Eagle Foothills, where the fire started.

"We sent our closest units to that fire so we took off and went to their location and then as it spread into Boise we were then responding more units but they're from further away," Boise Fire Chief Mark Niemeyer said. "The Goose Fire did illustrate how challenging this can be in the wildland-urban interface. If you look at that evening, what drove that fire was wind."

Many homeowners along Hill Road Parkway feared this exact scenario. Both Niemeyer and Eagle Fire Chief Tyler Lewis admit the residents in that area live in a fire coverage gap.

"It still continues to be an area that's a gap in coverage as we've seen with development going on," Lewis said.

Since being annexed into the city in 2016, homeowners pay taxes for Boise Fire but do not have equal protection, which the Northwest Neighborhood Association (NWNA) argues is not fair.

"If you can't afford to provide infrastructure at the time development occurs, you should not be annexing," said Erika Schofield, a member of the NWNA.

From Hill Road Parkway and Bogart Lane, the closest staffed fire station in Boise is six minutes away on Glenwood Street. This fire station covers the neighborhoods surrounding it as well as Hidden Springs but skips the far corner of Northwest Boise.

Instead, the Eagle Fire Department signed an official agreement with Boise in 2019 to respond to calls in that area.

"Citizens are not unprotected or unsafe in that area," Lewis said. "I also strongly believe any additional fire response in those areas [in which] we have development is largely important."

Eagle Fire Dept. is able to respond to Hill Road Parkway and Bogart Lane quicker than Boise Fire Dept., within the National Fire Protection Association's four-minute standard response time.

The Eagle station's response area includes Avimor and Dry Creek, large developments along Highway 55. Lewis wants to move it further north in the next several years to better serve the city of Eagle.

"It's all challenging to keep up with growth and have appropriate stations in appropriate places all at the same time," Lewis said.

The fire coverage issue in Northwest Boise dates back 30 years. Back then, a station was needed as urban began blending with wildland.

Boise bought property on Pierce Park lane to build a fire station a decade ago, but nothing has been built. 

More growth is coming to an area already lacking adequate infrastructure, including Corey Barton Homes' and Trilogy's high-density Prominence subdivision with 226 units off Hill Road Parkway.

"It's very easy these days for a wildland-urban interface fire to turn into an urban fire where [an] entire subdivision is demolished to the ground," Schofield said. "We've seen it over and over in California and Oregon, it's something that cities aren't learning their lesson."

Neighbors said this highlights a bigger problem in the Treasure Valley, where cities are slow to build infrastructure as they grow rapidly.

"We really have an issue now out here in the northwest neighborhood as we continue to turn farmland into subdivisions and higher density developments," Llewellyn said. "When is that fire infrastructure going to catch up with us Because if it doesn't, it's dangerous, it really is."

City Council did require a condition to prominence: construction of a fire station needs to begin before apartments go in. Boise Fire announced in late October plans to ask for approval to build a station on Bogart Lane and State Street to cover Northwest Boise.

"We recognized the need. I've recognized the need since I got here, certainly, the mayor had priority to make this happen," Niemeyer said. "So we went to work right away."

If approved, construction on the new station would begin in 2023.

"The folks in that northwest community are being served and they are being served adequately, but we want to serve them to our standards and our level as far as the city goes," Niemeyer said. "Understanding it does take time to build a fire station and they understand that too, but what they've wanted to see is progress. And certainly, they deserve that."

Until then, homeowners fear another fire may devastate the Foothills, threatening their homes and the ones that will soon exist there.

"When you start putting homes in, especially two-story homes where people don't have much chance to get out, you gotta take extra caution to ensure people a safe life," West said.

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