The structure will cost exponentially more to build this time around,
in part due to more stringent building and fire codes, but even those are
unlikely to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. “Nothing,
not even a concrete house, could have survived in such a situation, because
windows are always the weakest line of defense,” Aidlin explains.
The low-maintenance zinc cladding, which created the visual illusion of
fire resistance, also could not withstand the force of the fire, which grabbed
extra fuel — patches of dry wild grass — as it advanced up the hill.
“Only buildings on heavily watered lots survived,” Aidlin says. “Soaked
vegetation prevented the fire from reaching some houses. But lawns are
not ecologically smart, and a wide clearing as a fire barrier is not attractive
For now, the danger is past, because Rice and Mehew’s woods are gone
and it will be decades before less fire-prone native manzanitas, oaks and
madrones they have replanted will mature.
Still, the site is beautiful.
“The silver lining is that without the trees the view is even more spectacular,” Lau says.
The only hurdle to overcome right now is cost, and to reduce that
would mean compromising on the custom details, built-in cabinetry and
materials that gave the spectacular, glowing structure its identity. “Yes, it
could be rebuilt with stucco and plasterboard,” Aidlin says. “But that just
wouldn’t feel the same.” n