A photo of Boise, ID. Photo courtesy of Canva Creative Commons.

Editor’s Note:  Earlier this spring as part of the Southwest Idaho Fire Adapted Communities Forum hosted by Idaho Firewise, Justin Milander from Boise Hunter Homes shared the story of the Harris North development. Justin’s presentation was an excellent opportunity to hear the unique perspective of a developer and learn more about how the integration of wildfire mitigation strategies occurs throughout all phases of a project. We thought this presentation was so valuable that we wanted to share more about it in this week’s blog. This blog was written by FAC Net staff using information from Milander’s presentation. Staff are not endorsing or recommending the use of any specific private company, but simply sharing lessons learned from this educational event. 

See the entirety of Justin’s Presentation below:

Harris North is a 173 unit development located on 145 acres southeast of Boise, Idaho. As a relatively new development, Harris North provided an opportunity to approach fire preparedness from the beginning of the process– incorporating it into planning, implementation and maintenance. In addition, the partnerships with the City of Boise and Boise Fire Department created an environment where fire-related requirements were clear. The transparency and clear expectations for buyers created by the developers allowed wildfire mitigation strategies to be incorporated into every step of the process and maintained after the initial purchase.  

Key themes and lessons shared by Justin Milander during his presentation are presented below. Justin broke them down into three primary phases: planning, implementation and maintenance. 

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Planning 

Boise Hunter Homes went through the preliminary planning process with the City of Boise. During this process, City staff provided formal feedback from a number of different departments (e.g., public works, parks, transportation and more). This feedback was incredibly important as it facilitated overall site planning. Key elements of the feedback and requirements provided by the City of Boise included:

  • Compliance with codes, including a Wildland-Urban Interface Code
  • Design considerations for the emergency access road. These considerations included paving the road based on road grade to facilitate emergency vehicle access.
  • Requirements for in-home fire suppression systems such as sprinklers. 

The Harris North Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Safety Plan provided a comprehensive assessment of wildfire potential as well as mitigation requirements. This Fire Safety Plan provided the foundation for much of the development process as well as what was communicated to potential home buyers throughout development. Key wildfire mitigation measures within the plan included construction and landscaping requirements, as well as designated responsibilities for the common areas to ensure they were maintained in a way that reduced wildfire risk.

Other important design elements of the community include:

  • A water tank at the top of the community. Design of that tank was based upon communication and requirements from the City of Boise. 
  • Roundabouts for fire suppression apparatus to allow them to maneuver.
  • Thoughtful lot placement. Most lots do not immediately abut wildlands. While a few do, those lots are designed to be deeper to provide more of a fuel break between the structures and the wildlands. The community was designed in a way to maximize the benefit of roads and common areas to create defensible space. 

A theme throughout all phases of the Harris North project was the desire to create clear expectations for potential home buyers. These clear expectations and requirements were formalized in Community Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs). In the case of Harris Ranch North, Firewise USA® community recognition was included in the CC&Rs. The CC&Rs provided an opportunity for transparency with prospective purchasers, ensuring that information and obligations are clear at the outset. CC&Rs included:

  • An assessment of $2.00 per year paid to the Homeowners Association to be used to further fire resilience actions.
  • The requirement that owners shall maintain defensible space consistent with the Harris North Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Safety Plan. 
Image on the left shows an aerial view of land and foothills with burn scars on the bottom right

Much of the planning for the Harris North occurred in 2015. In 2016, the Tablerock Fire burned around the planned development and provided an early illustration of how thoughtful design and planning can reduce wildfire risk. Harris North is the undeveloped but graded area visible toward the center of the screenshot (shared by Justin Milander during his presentation).

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Implementation

Ignition-resistant materials, consistent with those specified in the Harris North Wildland-Urban Interface Fire Safety Plan, were used throughout construction. Homes were required to have a Class A roof, cementitious soffits, noncombustible gutters, multilayered exterior glazing and appropriate vent locations. Those specifications (and more!) were part of a standards specifications sheet that was disclosed to home buyers during the purchase process. This was key to ensuring buyers understood the materials used and the reasons those materials were necessary.  

Landscaping plans and materials also accounted for wildfire risk. Landscape planning included the consideration of home ignition zones and provided a “fuel-free” first four feet adjacent to each home. While purchasers had the opportunity to customize their landscaping through the construction process, all landscaping still had to be appropriate for wildfire.  

Vegetation management inside the common areas focused on the reduction of fuel density and continuity. In addition, the common areas are maintained by the homeowners association. This ensures that vegetation around the homes supports the overall and ongoing reduction of wildfire risk to the community. 

These wildfire risk reduction elements of the development were routinely communicated to buyers. The continued emphasis on buyer education and transparency resulted in marketing materials that were clearly branded as part of a Firewise USA® recognized site. The very intentional inclusion of Firewise USA® logos on marketing materials helped make wildfire a continuous point of discussion with buyers prior to their purchase. 

Screenshot of a presentation

Note the Firewise USA® logo on the bottom left corner of the Information List on the left. Screenshot from Justin Milander’s presentation.

During the Firewise USA® accreditation process, Boise Hunter Homes worked with the Boise Fire Department to create an action plan for vegetation management and homeowners association responsibilities. In many ways, it was easier to build wildfire mitigation into the development from the beginning as opposed to creating an action plan based on what needed to change. 

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Maintenance

Ongoing homeowner education is important to the continued wildfire risk reduction in the Harris North area. As homes are sold, new residents move into the area. Availability of Firewise USA® handouts, community pool parties which include discussion of wildfire risk and seasonal newsletters help keep wildfire mitigation at the forefront in the community. 

Both the CC&Rs and Firewise USA® action plans are considered living documents. There is also clear responsibility for the enforcement of the CC&Rs, with the homeowners association being responsible for review and approval of improvements made after the initial sale.  

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