'That ember burned right through my house like hot butter'

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - Dennis Doan had only been Chief of the Boise Fire Department for a couple of months when the Oregon Trail Fire hit back in August of 2008.

Fifty mile per hour winds made the fire spread quickly, and made it even harder to fight. In his 23 years of being on the job, he's never seen his crews have to battle a blaze so hard.

"Flames were literally going from one house on this side of the street touching houses on the other side of the street," said Doan.

One person died in the fire and more than 20 homes caught on fire, with several being destroyed. Since then the city has implemented several changes to make sure the odds are in their favor the next time a major blaze hits.

To cut back on overgrown brush and weeds the city has the yearly goat grazing program in the Boise Foothills. They also offer free wood chipping for those who want to get rid of trimmed yard waste. |

The fire started when one of Idaho Power's lines sparked which caused the fire. Since then the company mows a barrier around some of their lines so if it happens again the fire couldn't get far.

The memories of the fire are still fresh in the minds of those who lost their homes that day. Randy Swope thought his home was prepared at the time, but quickly realized there wasn't much he could do.

"I thought I was fire proof, and I wasn't," said Swope. "That ember burned right through my house like hot butter."

Swope did manage to save some of his belongings, and he did rebuild. Although he still remembers how it felt to watch his home go up with nothing he could do.

"Just disbelief, everything you have is going up in smoke," said Swope. "Everything expect the clothes on your back."

After the fire, the city of Boise passed an ordinance which said any new homes built in the foothills had to use fire proof materials. Many in the neighborhood have taken it a step further and made even more defensible space around their home.

Chief Doan said it's not a matter of if, but when the next major fire will hit the foothills. He hopes the advances everyone had made will go a long way in saving property and lives.

Homeowners such as Swope told us even though they saw the worst of Mother Nature that day, they also saw the best in their community as everyone came together to help.

"I can remember it was like a parade route going down here. People wishing us well giving us a thumbs up saying you can do it. This neighborhood just drew me in that night, and I really don't have any aspirations on leaving."