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San Francisco company uses drones to harden homes against wildfires

Posted at 9:21 AM, Sep 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-08 12:21:38-04

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KERO) — A San Francisco-based start-up company is using drones and 3-D technology to harden homes against wildfires.

The Tubbs Fire in 2017 changed Calistoga resident Bill Dyers' mind about living in a house in the middle of the woods.

"We thought that was a cool thing. Once you've been through these fires, looking out your window and seeing trees has a different impact."

So Bill cleared a defensible space around the house.

But when the glass fire burned right up to his driveway, he decided he needed professional help and turned to a new company called Firemaps.

They use drones to create a three-dimensional image of the property that shows, in minute detail, the conditions of the home and the surrounding tree canopies.

"And from that we're able to create a prioritized list of treatments that would best help reduce their fire risk," said Sharuk Khanna, Firemaps co-founder.
Khanna says work is underway to trim bills trees, removing dead branches that can act as kindling.

They also swapped out the eave vents for ones that seal up under high heat.

And Firemaps found this wall grate that could allow burning embers directly into the house.

"It's not in the field of view, not usually something you are aware of, as a homeowner, how many vents do I have, what kind of vents do I have, what kind of mesh is on them?"

The homeowner gets a detailed list of recommendations, including immediate fixes and those that can be phased in over several years.

But scheduling contractors can be a difficult task, so Firemaps helps find companies to do the work, saving the homeowner time, and the contractor, money, by using the 3-D rendering.

"Which allows contractors to then look at, and bid on the project without having to show up on-site," said Khanna.

And perhaps the best thing about Firemaps is its price:

It's free to homeowners.

The cost is borne by the contractors for getting more work.

Bill still has his own work to do but he says he's come to appreciate living in woods that are not quite so thick.

"When I look out this direction, its more park-like, it's a managed forest and that's what it needs to be," said Dyer.