‘Miracle house’ owner hopes it will serve as a base for rebuilding Lahaina

Miracle house

 

 

MAUI, Hawaii — When an inferno tore through Lahaina on the island of Maui, it reduced a historic and charming town to ash and rubble. But the fire left a red-roofed house seemingly untouched by the devastation around it.

 

 

“Everybody’s calling it ‘the miracle house,'” Trip Millikin, who owns the home at 271 Front St., told NPR. But that label makes him uncomfortable, he added, citing the flood of emotions that came with learning that while his house was spared, his community was gutted.

 

 

“Our hearts are broken from what’s happened,” he said. “We love our neighborhood and love our friends, and just cannot believe that that world that we knew so well and loved — it’s gone forever.”

 

 

Photos of the wooden house, standing intact while its neighbors were reduced to ashes, quickly became an online fascination. Millikin’s friends call it a beacon of hope. To him, the historic Miracle house’s survival means it has a new role to play.

 

 

“As soon as we can, we want to open it to our neighborhood and open it to everybody who worked on it, as a base to help rebuild our part of Lahaina,” he said.

 

 

Nearly 100-year-old house withstood a historic fire

It’s not easy to explain how or why the house survived a fire that obliterated hundreds of structures around it. Millikin points to two big factors: luck, and the metal roof he and his wife, Dora Atwater Millikin, installed during recent renovations.

 

 

“I think it’s a combination of a commercial-grade corrugated metal roof, the stone [area] around the house, the palms around the house that absorb the heat — and a lot of divine intervention,” he said.

 

 

The Miracle house has roots dating to 1925 — it’s believed to have been moved from another location on Maui. After Millikin and his wife bought it in 2021, they finished a restoration project in 2022.

 

 

“We removed five layers of asphalt that were on the roof,” Millikin said. When the new metal roof was installed, he added, it included an air pocket to allow heat to dissipate. At the ground level, they removed all vegetation along the house’s dripline and added a stone buffer — a step taken to thwart not fires, but termites.

 

 

By intention or not, those changes jibe with wildfire guidance from the Colorado State Forest Service, which stresses the importance of steps such as reducing your home’s ability to ignite.

 

 

The first priority mentioned on the CSFS checklist: ensuring the roofing material has a Class A fire rating — a designation that includes metal roofs.

 

 

Airborne embers are the most common source of wildfire spread, the Colorado agency’s Daniel Beveridge told NPR.

 

Beveridge said there’s no way to know for sure exactly what preserved the house on Front Street, but “the metal roof and lack of adjacent flammable material. certainly limited the means by which the structure could have ignited.”

 

The Miracle house sustained minimal damage

When strong winds from Hurricane Dora drove the fire through Lahaina, large embers soared through the air — but they didn’t cause a catastrophe at the Millikins’ house

 

.The fires singed one part of the structure, but the only damage there was a warped PVC pipe on a wall. He also found paint blistered by intense heat on a wall near the kitchen.

 

“What’s behind it are the original — I think they’re redwood — planks from about 1920. They didn’t burn,” Millikin said.

 

A nearby section that holds a propane tank was also left intact.

“Can you imagine if that propane tank caught?” he asked. “The whole place would have gone.

 

“Following a fire from 5,000 miles away

The Millikins weren’t in Lahaina when the fire hit: they’ve been visiting friends and family in Massachusetts. And with so much uncertainty, they haven’t been able to return to Maui yet.

 

Millikin, a retired portfolio manager, says he first learned about the wildfire from a friend who was fleeing the blaze.

 

From some 5,000 miles away, he got live updates from his friends who were on the ground, watching their neighborhood be destroyed. As more houses exploded into flames, his friends finally fled.

 

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