Homeowner torches lakefront house teetering on Texas cliff

WHITNEY, Texas (AP/NBC) — The owners of a vacant luxury house teetering on a crumbling 75-foot cliff over a Central Texas lake decided to burn the house and clear the lot of the debris.

Demolition crews on Friday began the process to burn the house that Robert and Denise Webb purchased in 2012 but abandoned a few weeks ago, when it became unlivable after the cliff began giving way. The Webbs have another home along Florida’s Miami Beach, and the couple on Thursday told WTSP-TV that it’s hard to watch.

Randy Cephus, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, confirmed to NBC 5 that the homeowner had three options for removing the vacant home from the site before it falls into the lake.

  1. The first option was to wrap the home with a large net and then pull it away from the edge of the cliff so that the debris could be safely removed from the site. That option was determined to infeasible, leading engineers to consider the second option: burning the home to the ground.
  2. The White Bluff Fire Department confirmed to NBC 5 that bales of hay saturated with diesel fuel will be placed inside the home and set on fire Friday morning.
  3. Officials did consider a third option: allowing Mother Nature to eventually claim the home through one or more landslides.

No matter which course of action was decided upon, the homeowner will be responsible for the financial cost of the cleanup and removal of the debris; the last option, which would likely include removing debris from Lake Whitney, is also the most expensive option.

Tom Hemrick, Hill County’s Emergency Management coordinator, said after the blaze, a long-reach excavator would be used to clear the debris before the foundation slab is removed.

The 4,000-square-foot house is on a cliff overlooking Lake Whitney on the Brazos River at White Bluff Resort, 60 miles south of Fort Worth.

Robert Webb says geologists and inspectors — before the purchase — told them the property was perfectly stable, but it has been crumbling into the lake as the cliff on which it’s perched has given way.

The house was condemned and evacuated about two weeks ago — the condemned home drawing attention this week with images of dangling pieces of structure and cliff tumbling to the water.

Tax records show it was built in 2007 and is worth more than $700,000.

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