Flames of Change
The Eighth Street Fire
The blackened snags directly ahead, once stately, shade-giving cottonwood trees, show how deeply wildfire can impact Hull’s Gulch and other fragile riparian areas. In August 1996, the Eighth Street Fire tore across the Boise Front, fanned by high winds and fueled by dense, dry grasses. Started by a tracer bullet fired at a nearby police target range, the fire burned more than 15,000 acres. It was the most destructive Foothills fire of the past 100 years. Habitat for more than 250 wildife species was all but destroyed. Hundreds of homes were threatened but only one was damaged by the flames, thanks to a tremendous effort by firefighters.
Fire has always been a natural part of the landscape. One difference today is the number of fires caused by human carelessness—people start more than half of Idaho’s wildfires. Another difference is the presence of invasive, nonnative plants, like cheatgrass and Medusahead. Because these grasses are highly flammable, they allow range fires to start easily and spread quickly. Burned areas, in turn, are ripe for further invasion by these same fast-growing species. The natural fire-cycle is changing as a result.
Rangelands that used to burn about once every 25 years may now burn every five years—or even less. This shorter fire-cycle is changing the Foothills, just as it is changing rangelands across the West.