On August 26, 1996 a wildfire broke out in the foothills surrounding Boise. High winds and hot temperatures fanned the flames into an inferno which burned for seven days, blackening 15,000 acres, including the majority of two major watersheds, and exposing hundreds of homes to the threat of a debris torrent. Scientists agreed that even a fairly modest storm could trigger a debris torrent, with the potential for damage estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Three needs were immediate: (1) rehabilitate the burned area as fast as possible; (2) mitigate potential damage from a debris torrent; and (3) inform and prepare the public. There was no time to lose since Boise frequently experiences severe thunderstorms in September and October.
Local, state and federal officials acted immediately to obtain expedited funding for rehabilitation and mitigation projects. Mayor Brent Coles worked directly with federal land managers to determine the most effective and appropriate rehabilitation measures. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) obtained $5 million in emergency funding for the rehabilitation work and another $6 million in matching funds were made available through the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) for mitigation. Mayor Coles redirected City staff priorities so that every possible City resource was available for the cooperative effort.
Emergency planners prepared for possible response to an event. A massive public information campaign began immediately to inform residents about the dangers. In the meantime, the Forest Service and BLM acted quickly to trench, till, and reseed the burned areas. Volunteers helped reseed and place straw wattles across the vulnerable slopes. These activities took place in the environment of a concerned and watchful public which had strong reservations about taking any action that would permanently scar the foothills.
No waivers of environmental regulations were allowed, but federal agencies worked cooperatively with the City of Boise and other local entities to facilitate compliance. An Environmental Assessment (EA) required for some of the local mitigation projects was prepared by NRCS staff.
The City of Boise took immediate steps to clean sediment from several flood retention ponds at the mouths of the damaged drainage and began a very public process to determine what, if any, additional structures should be built to retain mud and water and protect homes. Conservation groups and neighborhood associations made suggestions and voiced their concerns. Elected officials worked to balance environmental concerns with the need to protect lives and property.
The aftermath of the Eighth Street Fire remains with Boise. Under the latest projections, there is still a 25 percent chance that a major event could occur within the next five years. A proposed salvage timber sale in the burn area has generated much controversy because logging trucks would travel through the same neighborhoods which are threatened by a possible flood. Again, federal agencies listened closely to the local concerns and agreed to reroute the trucks.
Federal, state and local agencies learned much through the Eighth Street Fire. With the amount of urban-wildland interface increasing nationwide, other communities are likely to face similar issues and learn the same lessons.
Contact: Office of the Mayor, (208) 384-4422
Mayor Brent Coles joined forces with Doug Armstrong, President and General Manager of KTVB Television (NBC) to organize the largest drug prevention campaign in the history of Idaho. The goals of "Enough is Enough" are to motivate, mobilize and unite the community in the fight against drugs and alcohol; reduce the demand and appeal of drugs and alcohol in today's youth culture; and increase the awareness and effectiveness of existing drug prevention and treatment programs. The active participation of KTVB, a major media outlet, was critical to the event's success.
In partnership, the Mayor's office, KTVB, Boise State University, local school districts, the U.S. Attorney's Office and major local businesses held 16 seminars and rallies over a six-day period which were attended by more than 43,000 students and their parents. The seminars were conducted by Milton Creagh, an internationally known drug prevention speaker. Five of these seminars were televised live on KTVB, which also aired Mr. Creagh's video, "Masquerade," five times during the event and produced and aired two local shows featuring Mr. Creagh.
Response to the event was impressive. All students grades 7-12 (about 25,000 students) from a two-county area were bused to the seminars. Use of the arenas was donated. Rural school districts from as far as 150 miles away brought their students to Boise for the event. School counselors and private counselors attended each seminar to work with youth and their parents. Local hospitals provided referral information to individuals who called their hot lines. Police provided traffic control and security. School resource officers and drug education officers attended each session. Hundreds of volunteers provided logistical support at the arenas.
Seven steering committees representing the various sectors of the community (education, religious, civic/social, youth volunteers, business, prevention/treatment, and law enforcement) mobilized to assist with the event and then create an ongoing community-wide effort to fight drug and alcohol abuse. The message of "Enough is Enough" is that prevention is not just the responsibility of schools and police -- it is the responsibility of every individual, every family, and every business.
Each steering committee has committed to specific follow-up action. The business community is working to encourage the adoption of drug-free workplace policies, as well as drug prevention education for workers. Businesses are also looking at ways to provide ongoing funding for prevention activities. Training was provided for clergy and is planned for thousands of youth volunteers, such as Little League coaches. Members of all faiths gathered during one day of the "Enough is Enough" event at well-attended interfaith and evangelical services. Legislation regulating the control of chemicals used to manufacture methamphetamine is being proposed.
Contact: Office of the Mayor, (208) 384-4422
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright ©1996, U.S. Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.