Watch CBS News

Startup Uses Drones, 3D Technology To 'Harden' California Homes Against Wildfires

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) - People who live in areas prone to wildfire are coming under increased pressure to create a defensible space around their homes. Now, a startup company is using drones and 3D technology to make that task a lot easier.

Bill Dyer says he thought it was a "cool thing" to live in the forested hills near Calistoga in California's Napa Valley, but the 2017 Tubbs Fire changed his mind.

"Once you've been through these fires, looking out your window and seeing trees has a different impact," he tells CBS station KPIX.

Dyer cleared a defensible space around his house -- a process known as "hardening." But when last year's Glass Fire burned right up to his driveway, he decided he needed professional help.

He turned to a new San Francisco-based company called Firemaps. They use drones to create three-dimensional renderings of properties that show, 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," says Firemaps co-founder Sharuk Khanna.

People who live in areas prone to wildfire are coming to understand the importance of hardening their homes. Now, a...

Posted by KPIX CBS San Francisco Bay Area on Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Work is underway to trim Dyer's large oak trees, Khanna says, removing dead branches that can act as kindling. They also swapped out the eave vents for ones that seal up when subjected to high heat. And Firemaps found a wall grate on the back side of the house with wide mesh screening that could allow burning embers directly into the crawlspace under 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," Khanna points out.

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 contractors to do the work and, by using the detailed 3D rendering, they can "look at and bid on the project without having to show up on site," according to Khanna.

Firemaps updates its renderings each time major work is done and they say that could be valuable proof for convincing insurance companies to continue coverage in high risk areas. But perhaps the best thing about Firemaps is that it's free to homeowners. The cost is borne by the contractors for getting more work.

Dyer still has his own work to do, but as he looks out at the clean grove of oaks outside his door, he says he's come to appreciate living in woods that are not quite so thick.

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

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.