The Worst House Money Can’t Buy?

Pictured above is a house on fire. But if you look closely at the picture, you may notice that something is amiss. There are three firefighters in the picture, one on the right (cropped) who is standing around watching the house go up in flames, and two others on the left that are hosing down the neighbor’s house — not the one that is actually engulfed in flames. If you didn’t know better, you might think that these were the world’s most incompetent firefighters.

But they’re not. In fact, not only are they good firefighters, but they may be the world’s most expensive exterminators, too.

The house above was in the small Illinois town of Pana as recently as the fall of 2010. But the owners of the house had let the building fall into disrepair to a shocking degree. The home was filled with trash covering virtually all the surfaces inside, and the problem became more than the owners could possibly clean up. As September ended and colder temperatures hit the area, the trash heap of a home became an even bigger headache — German cockroaches, likely looking for food and a warm place to breed, had moved in. And as anyone who has ever seen a cockroach in their house knows, there’s never just one. Before long, the home was overtaken by the insects.

And that’s when this home on South Maple Street became a problem for its neighbors. Cockroaches will spread to nearby homes if left unchecked, and the infestation was simply too large for the homeowners to handle. On September 13, 2010, according to the Pana News-Palladium, the town council met to determine what to do about the disaster brewing in their community. Two days later, the owners, perhaps fearing a lawsuit, decided to simply give the house over to the town. Unfortunately, the town couldn’t fix the bug problem either.

So, instead, they agreed to burn the house down — and all the bugs, hopefully, too.

On October 30, 2010, as seen in this video, firefighters from the Pana Fire Department went to the home to do a controlled burn of the structure. As the San Francisco Globe would later note, “because these types of roaches are known to burrow and thus could potentially escape the fire, firefighters built what appeared to be a ditch around the home,” filling it with straw. This is where they started their work — they lit the straw and the literal ring of fire worked its way inward toward the house, trapping the bugs in the subsequent inferno. Firefighters worked to ensure the neighboring houses didn’t catch on fire during this process; that’s why the firefighter in black, above, is spraying down the “wrong” house.

The plan seemed to have worked. A look at Google Street View of the property, as of June 2013, shows that the cockroach house is gone and the neighboring houses are fine (as far as one can tell). In place of the bug lair? A trampoline.

Bonus fact: Fire can stop cockroaches, but ice may not. Some species of cockroaches have been found in Antarctica and other places that reach extremely low temperatures. The roaches’ key to survival? As NBC News reported, the bugs “appear to [make their own] natural antifreeze called trehalose to stay alive through the long, cold winters.”

From the Archives: RoboRoach: A robotic way to stop cockroaches, maybe.