Photographs of Trip Milliken and Dora Atwater Millikin’s unscathed red-roofed home went viral as a rare beacon of hope after the destructive fires that wiped out much of Lahaina and left at least 115 dead. More than 1,000 people remain unaccounted for.
Mr Milliken told NPR that he and his wife felt terrible “survivor’s guilt” after learning that their recently-renovated 100-year-old home was left untouched.
“Everybody’s calling it ‘the miracle house,’” Mr Milliken told NPR.
“Our hearts are broken from what’s happened,” he said. “We love our neighbourhood and love our friends, and just cannot believe that that world that we knew so well and loved — it’s gone forever.”
The retired couple were on holiday in Massachusetts when fires erupted on 8 August, and haven’t yet returned to Hawaii.
Mr Milliken told NPR that when friends contacted him with the miraculous news that their house had survived, he felt conflicted.
“There was a neighbour who sent a note to us and said, ‘Oh, you won the lottery.’ And I almost wanted to throw up when I got that,” he told the news site.
“I felt so badly, because these are my friends. These are my neighbours. And that’s all gone.”
The couple purchased the home in 2021 and renovated last year. They removed the asphalt roof and installed a heavy-gauge metal one with an air pocket that allowed heat to escape.
Mr Millikin said they cut down vegetation surrounding the home and put in a stone buffer, which was originally intended to stop termites, but turned out to be effective at keeping airborne embers at bay. The relatively minor adjustments proved crucial to its survival.
He put the home’s durability down to the makeover and a healthy dose of “divine intervention”.
When a photograph of the home began spreading online, some wondered if the image had been doctored or pointed to a larger conspiracy.
Mr Milliken said many around 20 local residents pitched in to help out with the project. He thanked many of them personally and said they are welcome to return when they can.
He now plans to turn the home into a base to help with rebuilding efforts.
Ms Atwater Millikin said in a recent interview that some of their neighbours had died in the wildfire.
“So many people have lost everything, and we need to look out for each other and rebuild. Everybody needs to help rebuild,” she told the Los Angeles Times.