The Wall Street Journal has written an extensive profile and photo essay on Phillip Vogt and his extraordinary tale of survival and resilient design in the face of The Woolsey Fire that caused widespread destruction in California last fall.
Titled, “The Malibu Home That Was Prepared for One of the State’s Worst Wildfires,” the piece details how Phillip traveled to his home – one he and his family planned to move into that upcoming weekend – became trapped, battled the fire for more than 12 hours alone, and preserved his home thanks to resilient design strategies and sheer will.
Today, Phillip’s home is essentially the only home for over a mile still standing thanks to its reliance on innovative sustainability and resilience measures including Tesla’s Powerwall Offgrid System, on-site water tanks, Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs), non-combustible materials, fire-proof insulation and windows, and specialized roof vents among others.
Phil’s full story can be read online and will be a two-page spread in the Wall Street Journal’s March 29 print edition. Here are key excerpts:
On Informing Future Fire-Resilient Communities
Mr. Vogt stands at the vanguard of a movement toward making homes more fire safe in the West’s increasingly combustible wild lands. A triple whammy of rising temperatures, overgrown forests and rampant development in wooded areas has created what local official call an unprecedented fire threat to communities. Last November, the Woolsey Fire combined with the Camp Fire in the northern part of the state destroyed about 20,000 homes and other structures at a cost of between $15 billion to $19 billion, according to data provider CoreLogic .
The dramatic increase in big fires—15 of the 20 most destructive on record in California have occurred since 2000—has prompted calls by state and federal officials to increase thinning of forest areas. It has also triggered action to address another factor behind the growing property damage: the vulnerability of homes themselves, such as by being situated too close to vegetation and by being constructed from too many flammable materials like wood.
On the Vogt Home’s Resilient Design Measures
Mr. Vogt’s two-story home is in a rural section of Malibu, near where his wife works and where his two children go to school. Among other reasons he and his wife fell in love with the property was its seclusion and vantage point overlooking the Pacific. In his research before buying the property, Mr. Vogt learned that it was in one of the most fire-prone areas of Southern California—atop a ridge in mountains choked with flammable chaparral.
A native Californian, Mr. Vogt said he has long been interested in being less reliant on local utility companies and governmental agencies during an emergency. He said that is why he considered it a “must” to employ fireproof techniques. “I think friends and family thought I was more or less planning for the zombie apocalypse,” he said.
He designed the Spanish-style roof with fire-retardant materials. Thickened roof sheeting is covered by a fire-rated underlayment, which doesn’t allow burning embers to penetrate. That is then covered by two-piece clay tile that has concrete in-between, which helps secure the tiles from high winds and helps further prevent burning embers from entering.
Mr. Vogt used a high performance stucco as an extra barrier around the walls and, wherever possible, replaced wood with nonflammable materials. For example, he used fibrous cement board instead of wood for the eaves.
As an added safeguard, Mr. Vogt stockpiled 50,000 gallons of water on the property, with pumps powered by a solar, battery and liquid-gas power system so they, like other devices, would continue running when the rest of the power goes out. Construction was completed in the fourth quarter of 2018; he was still working on finishing touches like landscaping when the Woolsey Fire hit.