A Community Effort
Recovery efforts after the Eighth Street Fire began almost immediately. The goal was to reduce the likelihood of erosion, flooding, and mudslides, which could damage homes in Boise. These fears have a basis in history. Only two weeks after an August 1959 Foothills fire, a rainstorm on the denuded land washed mud 10 inches deep into Boise’s East End.
After the 1996 Eighth Street Fire, thousands of volunteers worked with land managers on efforts to slow erosion in the Foothills and protect Boise neighborhoods. Machines dug trenches across the upper-most slopes of Hull’s Gulch, while other slopes were hand-trenched or lined with straw-filled plastic tubes, called “wattles.” Strawbale checkdams were placed in steep draws, trees were felled to catch runoff, and soils were tilled to breakup the hydrophobic, or water resistant, layer—a kind of waxy residue—left behind by burned vegetation. Seeding was done to help reestablish native plants, and herbicides were used to control cheatgrass.
These efforts were fairly successful. Despite heavy rains after the fire, Boise was spared from mudflows and serious floods. Desirable shrubs and grasses, and wildlife, are returning. Still, skeleton weed has overtaken some south-facing slopes, which are drier than other areas and difficult to restore. The trenches in the upper slopes of Hull’s Gulch are now less apparent than before, but they’ll always be a visual reminder of the impacts of human-caused fire on the Boise Foothills.