A Pomona family is confronting a nightmarish scenario: Their home is being eaten from within by a seemingly voracious fungus.
Chris Zettell and his wife Crystal first noticed an “orange, pancake-batter-looking ooze” in December, they said in an interview last week.
They scraped the ooze away, but, to their horror, it grew back. They thought some kind of leak must be causing the growth, but multiple repair people could not determine the cause.
“We’ve had 10 people out here. Nobody could find a leak. Nobody knows what it is,” Crystal Zettell said. “Nobody comes back after the first time they come.”
They finally opened up a wall and found the fungus crawling up the space inside the wall, Chris Zettell said.
They did their own research and discovered they were facing Meruliporia incrassata, often called simply “poria.” The rare wood-eating fungus spreads quickly in wood with an elevated moisture content, leaving what was once solid a mushy mess.
Chris Zettell said he’s read that the fungus can cause a home to deteriorate to the point of collapsing.
Indeed, when the Los Angeles Times wrote about the fungus plaguing Southern California homeowners, UC Riverside plant pathology professor John Menge called it “the most devastating wood-decay fungus of houses that we know of."
"The bad news about poria is that it's hidden and it spreads fast, but once you find it, it can be controlled," Wayne Wilcox, a UC Berkeley forestry professor, told the Times in the 1998 article.
The Zettells’ insurer, Allstate, denied their claim, saying it does not cover property loss caused by water or another substance below the ground.
“The water loss appears to be from surface water under the home with long term seepage and no sudden one time incident. As well as long term needed maintenance,” the May 19 letter from Allstate’s Diamond Bar office stated.
Such painful rejections are common among insurers responding to poria claims, the Times reported.
Last week, yet another expert came to the Zettells’ home and looked at the fungus, tearing up the floor boards — and revealing a problem much worse than they had expected. The expert finally confirmed the homeowners’ diagnosis.
It will cost the Zettells tens of thousands of dollars — out of pocket — to pay for repairs.
“It’s such a huge amount of money,” Crystal Zettell said. “If we start it, we’re going to have a torn-apart house, and if we don’t do it, the fungus is going to eat our house.”
They plan to appeal Allstate’s decision.
The Times posted tips for responding to a poria infestation.
The family has set up a fundraising page on GoFundMe.com to raise money for repairs.