FireWatch maps aim to help keep homes, community safe from wildfire

A FireWatch aerial of the Covenant.
(Courtesy RSF Association)

Association addresses privacy concerns


The Rancho Santa Fe Association is getting ready to send defensible space maps to every homeowner in the Covenant. Through their partnership with FireWatch, aerial imaging will provide a new tool for residents to help in creating defensible space zones around their homes that can help slow the spread of wildfire, protect lives and property.

Caitlin Kreutz, the Association’s environmental resource coordinator, also hopes that FireWatch maps can help increase the insurability of properties as a number of Covenant residents have seen their insurance policies dropped due to high fire risk.

A FireWatch informational town hall was held in July and as the Association prepares to make maps available to homeowners, they have heard questions about privacy and what and how information is shared. Kreutz addressed some of those concerns at the Sept. 2 board meeting.

“The fire department cannot use the maps to come on private property without permission or give an abatement notice,” Kreutz said.

Dave McQuead, Rancho Santa Fe Protection District deputy chief, said the district must physically see a potential fire hazard in person from the public right of way. The fire district’s authority is 100 feet from a structure and 50 feet from the road.

While the maps will allow every resident to see what’s happening on their own properties, at a community level, Kreutz said the maps provide information on vegetation type, distribution and health and proximity to structures and roads. She can use the maps to apply for grants to clear areas along the roadways and Association-owned open space.

For the fire department, the mapping supports fire defense planning, a tool for managing evacuation routes and identifying open space areas for high-risk mitigation.

“My mission statement is to protect life, property and environment through preparedness, prevention and education and when those three don’t work it goes into emergency response,” McQuead said.

With hardened data on what is out there in the community, he said RSF firefighters and other responding agencies will have better information to fight a wildfire.

Kreutz said the Association will allow homeowners to opt out: residents will get their own map but they will not be shared with any fire authority.

As of July 1 this year, a new state law on seller responsibility took effect. In the sale of a home in a high or very high fire hazard severity zone, defensible space clearance must be adhered to and signed off on by the fire department before the sale can go through.

“That’s going to change a lot of things going on in the Ranch and it now directly ties defensible space clearance to property values,” Kreutz said.

Currently, defensible space zones are within 30 feet and 100 feet of the property. Assembly Bill 3074, which passed into law last year, additionally creates a third zone for defensible space. The law requires the Board of Forestry and Fire Protection to develop guidance for a new ember-resistant zone within zero to five feet of the home by January 1, 2023.

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