Earlier this month, a large, devastating fire in Maui—the second-largest island in Hawaii—caused at least 100 confirmed deaths so far, and left many people missing or injured in the town of Lahaina. The press has called it a “bush fire,” which is a term that refers to fires that burn through a specific kind of often arid landscape that has been stripped of some vegetation by development or industry. That doesn’t sound like the image of Hawaii that most of us conjure in our minds, but the islands have experienced a very hot, dry summer. This isn’t even the first major fire, although it’s by far the worst in terms of deaths and property destruction.
One photo of a house on Front Street in Lahaina (top) has become a remarkable image in the midst of the devastation as the only surviving house in its neighborhood. Experts are estimating that 80 percent of the buildings in the town of Lahaina, home to about 12,000 people, have been destroyed. The so-called “Miracle House” has entranced the internet, where people are speculating about what could have spared the house. In truth, it’s probably due to a mix of factors, not least of which is luck.
But the home also had an unusual advantage when it comes to fire: the owners surrounded it with a three-foot-wide area of river rock. The homeowners told Honolulu Civil Beat that they’d wanted to protect their home’s foundation from the typical runoff associated with watering traditional landscaping. Loose stone cover, which is used in traditional landscaping to “block off” areas where homeowners don’t want plants to grow, is a huge part of environmentally conscious landscaping, as well. In fact,