The Maui wildfires that burned down Lahaina shockingly spared a red-roofed wooden house.
A photo shows the buildings on all sides of the house were destroyed.
Yard work and ample space may have saved it, experts say, since those are the best ways to protect your home from wildfire.
The wildfires that struck Maui earlier this month devastated the historic town of Lahaina, reducing nearly every building to ashy rubble — but one wooden house in the center of it all survived unscathed.
Experts say this red-roofed home offers a crucial lesson in wildfire safety.
“When we look at these pictures, we look at what has burned. We look at the cars and the houses, and we neglect to look at what didn’t burn,” Pat Durland, a former wildland fire manager, current wildfire-mitigation consultant, and board member at the non-profit Hawaii Wildfire Management Organization, told Insider. “That’s where the answers lie.”
The owners of the house were shocked to find it still standing. They hadn’t made any efforts to fireproof their home, they told local news outlets.
“It looks like it was photoshopped in,” homeowner Trip Millikin told the Honolulu Civil Beat, referring to how the white, red-roofed home now looks, as rubble surrounds it. Even the car in the driveway looks unscathed.
But the Millikins made a few key choices that meant this house “didn’t meet the requirements for ignition,” Durland said. “It’s not a miracle or luck.”
The good news is that many homeowners can do the same: keep a perimeter of at least five feet around the house totally free of dry or flammable vegetation or mulch, keep the roof and gutters clear, remove anything flammable from underneath porches and decks, and install non-combustible 1/8-inch mesh screening on any vents to a crawl space or attic.
That all helps ensure there’s no fuel for any embers to ignite if they drift to your house.
“People believe that they’re helpless,” Durland said. But they’re not, he insisted: “Nine out of 10 times, this boils down to words: yard work.”
The open, vegetation-free space around this house may have saved it
Trip Millikin and his wife, Dora Atwater Millikin, bought the Front Street house in 2021, according to the Civil Beat. The home, which once housed a local sugar plantation’s management employees, is thought to have been moved from the plantation to its current location in 1925, the Civil Beat reported.
The house was pretty rundown when the Millikins bought it, so they decided to renovate it and preserve a piece of Lahaina history, the Civil Beat reported.
That decision may have saved everything they own.
Atwater Millikin told The Los Angeles Times that she doesn’t quite understand why the home was spared, but she thinks it might have something to do with how they renovated it.
“It’s a 100% wood house, so it’s not like we fireproofed it or anything,” Atwater Millikin told the outlet.
But they did make it more fire resistant, even if on accident. For one, Atwater Millikin said they laid stones in place of foliage surrounding the house.
“The first thing I see is space,” Durland said.
Some of that is a lucky location: The ocean is protecting their deck. There’s a lot of space between them and the neighboring houses. But the absence of mulch or dry plants around their house, or tree branches too close to it, means there’s no fuel to spread fire to the house itself.
“If shrubs and bushes, especially flammable ones, are right up next to the house and embers catch them on fire, the heat can burst the window and it goes right into the home from there,” Susie Kocher, a forestry advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension, who co-authored a guide to retrofitting homes for wildfire protection, told the Times.
“People generally think that it’s a big wall of flames that is catching houses on fire, but often the mechanism is embers,” she added.
The clear roof helped too
Atwater Millikin also said she and her husband replaced the asphalt roof with a metal one.
“When this was all happening, there were pieces of wood — 6, 12 inches long — that were on fire and just almost floating through the air with the wind and everything,” Atwater Millikin told The Times. “They would hit people’s roofs, and if it was an asphalt roof, it would catch on fire. And otherwise, they would fall off the roof and then ignite the foliage around the house.”
An asphalt roof isn’t actually more flammable than metal, Kocher and Durland said. That would have been fine. But the fact that the Millikins’ roof is clear of debris certainly helped, they said.
“I felt guilty. We still feel guilty,” Trip Millikin told the Civil Beat, adding that he and his wife plan to open up the house to their neighbors who lost their homes.
“Let’s rebuild this together,” Millikin told the Civil Beat. “This house will become a base for all of us. Let’s use it.”
Read the original article on Insider