When a devastating wildfire leads to the construction of McMansions

Here is brief mention of a situation when McMansions were built after a devastating wildfire:

Although dwarfed by other natural disasters, and probably forgotten by people without Bay Area connections, the Oakland Hills Fire 20 years ago killed 25 (many of them trapped in their cars, trying to escape), injured 150 and burned down more than 3,000 homes and 450 apartments and condos. The property damage has been estimated at $1.7 billion—the same (in today’s dollars) as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Overnight, a hillside brush fire was transformed into a major conflagration by a sudden “Diablo wind” that rose within minutes to 70 miles per hour and 100 feet high. Defying more than a thousand firefighters from all over the state, the winds (including flame-generated whirlwinds) hurled fire, flint and embers in a dozen different directions. At their peak, the flames were exploding 10 houses a minute—600 in the first hour alone. Sparks leapt over an eight-lane freeway. In two days, two square miles of wood-framed houses among the trees, built on steep slopes and narrow, winding roads (to capture the great views of San Francisco), had been reduced to a no-man’s-land of white ash and crumbled debris, pierced by dark spikes of leafless tree trunks among surviving stone steps and totemic chimney towers.

It is this ghostly, lifeless afterworld that Mr. Misrach captured by setting up his view camera along the empty streets of this miniature version of Dresden or Hiroshima a week or so after the fire. There are no people in his pictures; no cars except burned-out hulks with melted windows.

The first images I focused on were the remains of the burned trees. In most cases, only the hard, black, sharp centers of their trunks remained. Mr. Misrach found many ways of making these spiky shapes eloquent and expressive…

In the years since the fire, most of the empty lots have been filled with new houses, even if most of the residents from 1991 have left. Many of the rebuilders used their settlements to build new McMansions two or three times the size of the houses that were lost. The trees around them will take another 50 years to grow back. The handsome old houses of the Oakland hills are not what they were. But Mr. Misrach has captured the precise moment when one world ended and another began.

This is a unique situation compared to the typical complaints about McMansions that are built within an established neighborhood. In this case, a fire wiped out the existing neighborhood, wiping the slate clean. I would guess that the homes that were built after the fire would have been difficult, perhaps even impossible, to build before the fire. Additionally, this wasn’t just valuable land but also land on the sides of hills that had commanding views but could also probably be seen from a distance as well.

I imagine there could be a very interesting story to tell about these new homes and how the new neighborhood came to be.

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