Rarely does something good happen when, late on a dark and windy night, people burst through the front door yelling “fire.” Nightmares often begin this way, but for the Danielson family, this was no dream.
Steven Danielson, his wife, Tara, and their three sons were asleep when the Table Rock fire broke out around midnight Wednesday about a mile from their Foothills home on Pheasant Lane near Barber Drive and Warm Springs Avenue.
If it hadn’t been for his stepdaughter’s late night out with her boyfriend, who also lives at the house, things could have turned out much worse for Danielson’s family.
Before they got home, the young couple could see the Foothills aglow and the fire, buffeted by strong winds, making a run for their house.
“They drove up the hill as fast as they could and came in, busted in the house screaming, ‘The hill is on fire, you guys get up and get out,’ ” Danielson told the Statesman.
He and his family, along with three dogs and one cat, escaped the flames. One cat is missing. The family home is destroyed.
“My grandpa, Jess Danielson, built it for his wife,” Danielson said. “They passed away, and I moved up here to try to finish what Grandpa started, and now nature or someone else took it.”
An online fundraising account has been set up to help the Danielsons.
Hundreds of other homeowners came close to the same fate as the Danielsons.
The fire skirted several subdivisions — Boulder Heights, Table Rock, Warm Springs Mesa, Harris Ranch.
Bureau of Land Management spokesman Brandon Hampton credits the fact that so many homes were spared by “firefighters anticipating what the fire was going to do and being proactive in their fire-suppression efforts.”
But Mother Nature helped out a little, too.
A sudden wind shift pushed the fire back from the homes and then calmer winds prevailed, giving fire crews the window they needed to gain control of the fire. By noon, they had halted its spread.
“There was some luck put into it. The winds did prove to be advantageous for firefighters by moving from one direction to another,” Hampton said.
The fire fully contained around 9 p.m., but brush crews planned to stay on the scene through the night and until about 6 p.m. Friday, the BLM and Boise Fire Department reported.
How did the fire start?
About midnight several people called 911 dispatch to report a fire near Table Rock. Erratic winds, gusting up to 40 miles per hour, quickly pushed the fire south toward Warm Springs Mesa and east toward Harris Ranch.
The winds changed course and then calmed down, halting the fire’s spread. By midmorning the fire was 60 percent contained. When all was said and done, the fire consumed 2,500 acres, narrowly skirting hundreds of homes and destroying one home and a barn. No one was injured.
Bureau of Land Management and almost every firefighting crew in the county including Boise, Meridian, Eagle and Star fire departments responded to the fire.
Did anyone witness the fire get started?
Some 911 callers said they saw people lighting fireworks near Table Rock. Fire investigators determined fireworks were indeed the culprit.
Aren’t fireworks banned in the Foothills?
Yes. Ada County on June 20 implemented a fireworks ban for unincorporated areas of the county. The area where the fireworks were lit is within the ban area. Violating the ordinance is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Ada County Sheriff’s Office detectives and fire investigators are looking for the people responsible for starting the fire, who not only face misdemeanor charges but also could be responsible for paying firefighting costs and other damages.
“If they are found guilty they can be fined. They can also be forced to pay suppression costs, which could be in the thousands and thousands of dollars,” the BLM’s Hampton said.
Anyone with information is asked to call Sheriff’s Office detectives at 577-3723 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Were any homes evacuated?
No mandatory evacuations were issued, but many people left their homes voluntarily. Fire officials identified several “trigger points” — areas that, if reached by fire, would have have meant immediate evacuation.
Boise Fire and Bureau of Land Management officials determined whether notifying or evacuating residents was warranted, fire department spokeswoman Tammy Barry said.
Officials consider factors such as the distance of the fire from homes and how fast the fire is moving.
How are residents notified in such an emergency?
One tool that can be used is an automated notification via phone. Emergency dispatchers can blast a “reverse 911” phone message to residents in a specific geographical area.
“We would explore the option of doing a reverse 911 if homes were threatened,” Barry said.
Ada County residents with cellphones can receive these kinds of alerts by signing up online for the county’s “Code Red” emergency notifications.
If an evacuation is ordered, firefighters would go door to door to get residents out quickly, Barry said. The city would also set up a shelter. “We can’t just say, ‘Leave your home, you’re on your own,’ ” she said.
What about the cross on Table Rock?
It stayed lit throughout the whole ordeal.
Statesman staffers Rocky Barker, Chadd Cripe, Kyle Green, Joe Jaszewski, Erin Fenner, Katy Moeller and Dave Southorn contributed.