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The Tiny House That Survived the Santa Rosa Fire and Hurricane Irma

Both homes are Traveler XL model tiny houses on wheels by ESCAPE. One in Santa Rosa that survived the fire (photo below taken by a firefighter) and the other THOW is in Miami where Hurricane Irma had a major impact (100MPH winds). Both of them, fortunately, survived with minimal damage.

Santa Rosa Fire

Miami (Hurricane Irma)


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Our big thanks to Dan George of ESCAPE Traveler for sharing!

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Alex is a contributor and editor for TinyHouseTalk.com and the always free Tiny House Newsletter. He has a passion for exploring and sharing tiny homes (from yurts and RVs to tiny cabins and cottages) and inspiring simple living stories. We invite you to send in your story and tiny home photos too so we can re-share and inspire others towards a simple life too. Thank you!
{ 6 comments… add one }
  • Annette
    October 25, 2017, 1:15 pm

    The heart really goes out to those whose homes are lost in natural disasters. With fire in particularly, it seems like a very random chance that preserves one home and destroys its neighbor.

    But with a THOW, one would think that the whole point is that one could evacuate the entire home? The idea of tiny housing is not only about downsizing, but flexibility/mobility I would think? Of course, a tow vehicle and driver must fit in the equation. Are THOWs that are too big to move missing the point?

    • James D.
      October 25, 2017, 4:08 pm

      All THOWs can be moved, the question is whether it can be done easily and quickly.

      Those that are too big may require time to prepare, like the owner may need to hire a moving company to bring out a big enough tow vehicle if the owner doesn’t have one that can do it themselves.

      But this bring into question on how quickly it needs to be moved… Something like a Tornado can strike without warning with alerts as little as just minutes before it hits, which even in a car may not be enough time to evacuate in time but you can have days to weeks to plan for a forest fire as long as it doesn’t start in your immediate area.

      Mind, even an RV can require over 30 minutes of prep time to raise the jacks, hook it up for towing, and pack up everything for the move.

      So having a house that can be moved doesn’t eliminate completely the need to be prepared for just about anything and having an escape plan because last minute evacuation often means getting through traffic jams and other obstacles… So the earlier and less congested path of escape the better…

      However, a house that can be custom built can also have custom made ways to protect it.

      It’s easier to make a small house with materials that are more fire resistant, like wood look metal siding. Some Tiny Houses are so fire resistant you can hold up a blow torch to the wall for several minutes and cause no more than localized damage that won’t penetrate all the way through the wall and that level of heat is usually far more concentrated and in excess of what a typical fire will give off.

      Using things like sprinklers to keep the house and the immediate area around it wet enough to not catch fire is also easier with a smaller house as you’d need less water to accomplish it.

      Smaller house can also make it easier to find a clearing large enough to prevent something like a fire from getting too close, even if you can’t evacuate the area completely.

      Options like chopping down and removing nearby trees is often not something that can be done in time for a large house but for a tiny one there’s at least a better chance.

      In this case, the one aspect of RV building code that is actually an advantage is the fact they are more concerned about fire hazards than residential building code… Since RV’s, cars, etc. deal with oils, gas, and other flammable materials.

      So most THOWs will have fire safety standards beyond what you will typically see in a standard residential house.

      There’s also the aftermath to deal with and as most Tiny Houses make it easier to live off-grid it means it’s much easier to survive until local resources can be repaired and returned to service.

      While even if you could not evacuate in time to escape the threat, it’s still easier to relocate afterward to be closer to emergency services, etc.

      So think of it more as a level of safety you may not otherwise have… It doesn’t eliminate the need to be prepared and have a pre-planned course of action but as long as you do then you can still have more options than you may otherwise have and much better chance of weathering such disasters without necessarily losing everything.

      Nothing is fool proof, however, but you can improve your chances and limit your risks.

      • Annette
        October 25, 2017, 6:13 pm

        Thanks – these are some informative points. I didn’t know anything about the fire-retardant advantages of RVIA certification. Very helpful.

        • James D.
          October 25, 2017, 7:53 pm

          Yes, a natural extension of the greater risk RV’s handle on a daily basis means they require higher standards to ensure people at least have time to escape when a fire happens.

          Just to be clear this doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about fires, as that’s always a risk and nothing is 100% fire proof, but there’s usually layers of precautions in place to limit risks and increase survivability.

          The main issue with the RV industry is it’s not regulated. So standards aren’t always followed as they should be but Tiny Houses are generally built by people who want to make sure they last and are safe because they’re intended as homes and not just temporary dwellings.

          So they will generally meet or exceed those safety standards.

          Like take for example Incredible Tiny Homes, despite being a budget priced builder, has started to make standard that all their builds will include a fire sprinkler system and most builders will usually make sure there’s at least one emergency egress point to be able to escape the house in case of fire.

          Though, for really good protection it is still up to owners to make sure they have the house designed for the highest level of protection…

          Like choosing to build a house completely out of wood means accepting a higher risk of fire but you can treat wood to make it at least a bit more fire resistant and thus have more time to keep the fire under control and/or more time to escape.

          Options like Shou Sugi Ban, the Japanese technique of charring of wood to weatherize it, also makes it harder to start a fire because the outer layer is already carbonized.

          So design choices can also play a factor…

          High levels of insulation also helps prevent the heat of a fire from breaching the walls right away, which since most tiny houses are well insulated gives a fair bit of protection, but you do have to make sure the type of insulation is fire resistant so it doesn’t combust but most of the good builders will make sure of that…

          Options like steel framing and siding are just not easily affordable by everyone but there’s a growing range of options that can still provide higher levels of protection.

          Like there’s the emerging material options like liquid glass and aircrete that can allow for additional high heat resistance and can be applied like a layer or coating.

          The “Honey Do Carpenter” on youtube recently did a home made rocket stove and showed how he made use of those materials in a way that’s more affordable than traditional costs and a rocket stove definitely puts that high heat tolerance to the test… But means even a DIY’er could add additional protection if they know how to.

          There’s also companies that make wall panels out of pre-formed concrete that can be made to look like wood and other materials that would make excellent fire resistant surfaces for a house and using methods things like aircrete can make them still very light weight and provide a level of insulation.

          So it wont be long before there will be a greater range of options that can allow for a greater level of safety without necessarily adding a lot of cost and then those options should start becoming more standard.

          But foresight, preparedness, and having a plan of action and contingencies in place are still your best tools…

          Like besides fires, people have to also be aware of threats like flooding… Short of making the house capable of floating, that usually means making sure where you park is high ground or at least have clear escape routes that won’t get flooded out before you can evacuate.

          It doesn’t mean you have to become a full blown prepper but a little bit of awareness goes a long way to reducing risks and with the right planning you will usually not need to go to extremes…

  • Glema
    October 26, 2017, 4:55 pm

    Thanks for all the information on the subject, many good points there James.

  • signalfire
    October 26, 2017, 8:50 pm

    I don’t know how this particular THOW managed to survive, but it would have been very educational if all these past years, the code people had allowed THs, straw bale, cob, the new aircrete, and other innovative techniques to be used to see what survived the firestorms, as well as what is moveable enough to outrun the danger. If thousands of code-compliant homes didn’t survive in wildfire prone areas, it’s time to think outside our expensive boxes…

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