RSF Association to provide aerial FireWatch maps to all homeowners

The Rancho Santa Fe Association's partnership with FireWatch will help with vegetation management to prevent wildfires.

The Rancho Santa Fe Association continues to take preventative measures to reduce its wildfire risk and keep the community safe, from clearing out flammable invasive species and dead and dying trees to encouraging residents to create defensible space, the protective buffer zone between homes and vegetative fuel.

In 2019, the Association partnered with FireWatch, a service that uses aerial imaging to help to identify a community’s wildfire risks. FireWatch has taken photographic images of every inch of the Ranch so homeowners can identify areas of improvement on their own properties—the Association’s next step will be providing individual maps to every homeowner in the Covenant. The phased rollout of the custom homeowner maps is expected to coincide with a town hall meeting.

The FireWatch message is simple: minimize vegetative fuel around your structures to reduce wildfire destruction.

“Success in fire management requires a united community effort,” said Caitlin Kreutz, RSF Association’s fire preparedness administrator. “Creating defensible space protects lives and property while potentially decreasing insurance liability and increasing real estate values. The preparation we take now will help determine whether our homes and community can survive wildfires.”

RSF Association Manager Christy Whalen said that the program will allow members to take fire safety measures that will not only protect their homes and the entire community but will also have an impact on insurance policies. Due to the high fire risk in the community, a number of Covenant members have had their insurance policies dropped.

Whalen said the Association has had initial discussions with insurance providers and they are very interested in how they will be using FireWatch.

“As we’re now planning a public launch of the program we will begin taking a more proactive approach to work with the insurance industry to expand our reach and influence in this area,” Whalen said.

Kreutz said this next phase could not be more timely as wildfires continue to increase at an alarming rate. California firefighters have battled several hundred more fires in the first quarter of 2021 than the previous year and Southern California is experiencing severe or extreme drought levels, she said.

A FireWatch study of aerial maps concluded that the majority of the 77 Rancho Bernardo homes destroyed in the 2007 Witch Creek Fire did not meet defensible space requirements.

“Homes without defensible space present a high fire risk for homeowners and their communities,” Kreutz said. “Vegetation monitoring and management reduces the vegetative fuel which feeds catastrophic wildfires.”

Brandon Closs, fire prevention specialist with RSF Fire Protection District, said historically the district has worked with homeowners to manage the wildfire risks on their properties. The FireWatch maps give them a very effective tool in determining areas of high risk.

“The ability to identify the locations of hazardous areas with large pockets of dead and dying fuels, as well as areas that have done a great job of completing their defensible space management, allows us to better plan our wildfire fighting effort,” Closs said. “The most effective way to fight a wildfire is to proactively prevent it and better understanding the condition of our forest and community landscape is essential in that effort.”

Kreutz noted that Rancho Santa Fe is the first HOA to partner with a fire protection district to try and get a handle on hazardous fuels: “We should all be proud that we’re taking these steps.”