Maui homeowner reveals property upgrades that left her house the only one spared by wildfires

More than 2,700 structures in historic Lahaina were damaged or destroyed in the tragic conflagration

Ariana Baio
Monday 21 August 2023 22:13 BST
The scale of wildfire scarring on Maui is captured in aerial footage
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The once-colourful homes along the coast of historic Maui town of Lahaina are now mostly obliterated, leaving a series of ruins covered in a layer of grey soot and ash from the devastating wildfires that ravaged the area.

Except for one.

Aerial photos of destroyed properties show a red-roofed home with a pristine white facade and red roof still standing, seemingly untouched by the blazes.

A photo of the scene immediately went viral, with some wondering if it could be Photoshopped or if it was part of a larger conspiracy, like many images that have circulated online in the wake of the disaster.

The simple truth, though, is that the homeowners, Dora Atwater Millikin and her husband made relatively minor adjustments that helped save their property.

Part of that included replacing the asphalt roof with a heavy-gauge metal one and cutting down the foliage surrounding the home, Ms Atwater Millikin told The Los Angeles Times.

She went on to say that the couple had no intention of making adjustments that would protect it from fire when they began to renovate it.

“It’s a 100 per cent wood house so it’s not like we fireproofed it or anything,” she said.

But rather than restoring the 100-year-old home to some of its original features, like changing the roof to either a wooden shake or a thinner tin material, they chose a tough steel roofing. They also placed stones around the home that line up to the drip line of the roof.

Then, she told the Los Angeles Times, they removed foliage around the house because they wanted to take preventative action against termites spreading to the house’s wood frame.

“We love old buildings, so we just wanted to honour the building,” Ms Atwater Millikin said.

Dora Atwater Millikin and her husband own the red-roofed home that was spared from the fires
Dora Atwater Millikin and her husband own the red-roofed home that was spared from the fires (AFP via Getty Images)

The changes, while minor, ended up being critical to keeping the home from catching ablaze.

“When this was all happening, there were pieces of wood — six, 12 inches long — that were on fire and just almost floating through the air with the wind and everything,” the homeowner said.

“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.”

Ms Atwater Millikin said they’ve lost some of their neighbours to the wildfires. “Many people have died,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “So many people have lost everything, and we need to look out for each other and rebuild. Everybody needs to help rebuild.”

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