The cracks soon turned into gaping fractures, and within two weeks their 600-square-foot garage broke from the house and the entire property — manicured lawn and all — dropped 10 feet below the street.
It wasn’t long before the houses on both sides collapsed as the ground gave way in the Spivey’s neighborhood in Lake County, about 100 miles north of San Francisco.
“We want to know what is going on here,” said Scott Spivey, a former city building inspector who lived in his four-bedroom, Tudor-style dream home for 11 years.
Eight homes are now abandoned and 10 more are under notice of imminent evacuation as a hilltop with sweeping vistas of Clear Lake and the Mount Konocti volcano swallows the subdivision built 30 years ago.
The situation has become so bad that mail delivery was ended to keep carriers out of danger.
“It’s a slow-motion disaster,” said Randall Fitzgerald, a writer who bought his home in the Lakeside Heights project a year ago.
Unlike sinkholes of Florida that can gobble homes in an instant, this collapse in hilly volcanic country can move many feet on one day and just a fraction of an inch the next.
Officials believe water that has bubbled to the surface is playing a role in the destruction. But nobody can explain why suddenly there is plentiful water atop the hill in a county with groundwater shortages.
“That’s the big question,” said Scott De Leon, county public works director. “We have a dormant volcano, and I’m certain a lot of things that happen here (in Lake County) are a result of that, but we don’t know about this.”