Imagine this: A brushfire, blistering and intense, breaks out on a dry, windy day and races up hills and down valleys, devouring trees, cars and houses. By the next morning the flames are gone, and the heavy clouds of black smoke have washed away to sea, leaving a clear view of charred trees and hundreds of seared foundations. Yet somehow, a few houses still stand, vivid against the backdrop of ruin.
That was the scene in October 1993 after a fire storm destroyed nearly 400 homes in Laguna Beach, California. The fires started several miles inland and swept to the sea at a brisk 2 mph to 4 mph, consuming increasingly thick vegetation along the way. Often, the course of the blaze forced the firefighters to make stands at what they considered to be the least defensible positions: the doorsteps of homes. Frequently, the flames boiled 50 ft. or 60 ft. into the air, and they reached temperatures of 2,000°F or greater. When the fire became that intense, the firefighters then were forced to abandon the structures, which in some instances burned to the ground in five minutes.
Now, more than a year and a half later, rebuilding efforts have begun to reclaim the blackened California hills and bare mountaintops where many houses once stood and where only a few houses remain.The most obvious question homeowners, builders, architects and code officials asked as they combed the rubble for clues was how did a precious few structures survive such an inferno while houses on all sides vanished in the fire? What they learned was a number of lessons that likely will work their way into local building codes and should help to reduce the damage of future fires.