Wildfire residence safety: Frontline, Firemaps, different start-ups

In October 2017, Anil Arora sat helpless in San Francisco when the Tubbs Fire approached his home in Calistoga, California.

Arora watched through a ring camera as the fire made its way through his garden before consuming the rest of his property. That night, Arora and his family could smell the smoke from the fire that had burned their home more than 70 miles away.

“It was just a shocking scene,” said Arora. “The day after we just sat down and discussed it and said, ‘You know what? We’ll rebuild.'”

Anil Arora watched through a ring camera in October 2017 as the Tubbs Fire burned down his home in Calistoga, California.

Courtesy Anil Arora

When the family was planning the rebuilding, Arora knew he wanted roof sprinklers on the house so it never burns down again. After searching for options on Google, Arora came across Frontline Wildfire Defense, a start-up that had just developed a sprinkler system that was exactly what he was looking for. Two years later, he had a new home with a dozen rooftop sprinklers, each of which could shoot water and foam up to nine meters in any direction.

Arora is among a growing number of homeowners turning to climate technology startups to protect their properties against natural disasters that are becoming increasingly common and severe due to global warming.

California forest fires are “something we would see anyway regardless of climate change and regardless of population, but adding climate change to the equation increases the chance of fire,” said Harry Statter, CEO of Frontline, the 3rd Raised millions of dollars in funding.

In August, the United Nations Climate Change Panel tabled a dire report calling for immediate action. The agency warned that limiting global warming to almost 1.5 degrees Celsius or even 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will be “unattainable” in the next two decades without reducing greenhouse gas emissions quickly and on a large scale. The report states that heat extremes at 2 degrees Celsius would often reach critical tolerance levels for agriculture and health.

“We had a house that was burned down so it’s very real to us. It’s not a conceptual thing, ”said Arora.

As homeowners ponder how to defend their homes, business owners and investors are starting to invest their time and money in this largely untapped market.

“We now have an opportunity to get the best and brightest minds to work on something that really pays off,” said Greg Smithies, partner and director of climate technology at Fifth Wall, a venture capital firm. To date, Fifth Wall has raised more than $ 300 million for its climate technology fund.

By November, according to data from PitchBook, more venture capital had been invested in climate technology in 2021 than in any previous year. According to PitchBook, nearly $ 26.7 billion was invested in climate technology in 2021, up from $ 15.3 billion in 2020 and $ 11.8 billion in 2019.

Homes and buildings in particular, climate change puts real estate assets at risk of up to $ 35 trillion by 2070, Smithies cited a report from 2016 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“The chance here of having a start-up making a whole lot of money given the size of the market is very easily much greater than any of the opportunities we’ve seen instead,” said Smithies.

The Frontline Wildfire Defense System uses sprinklers, each of which can shoot water and foam up to nine meters in any direction, to help homeowners fight forest fires.

Courtesy Frontline Wildfire Defense

Peace of mind against fire

The whole point of the Frontline system is to moisten a plot of land, hydrate the combustible vegetation around a house, and the building materials so it’s less likely to light up when a fire is approaching, Statter told CNBC. The system can be activated by flipping a switch in the house or via a mobile frontline app. If a fire caused a WiFi or cellular connection failure, the system can also connect to Frontline via satellite to ensure that a customer can definitely activate the sprinklers, Statter said.

The company also plans to release a new version of its app in December, which will provide everyone with comprehensive information on forest fire safety in near real-time. This includes a map that shows forest fires, evacuation warnings, orders and safe recovery status, the company said.

“You don’t have to be a system owner to use the new app,” says Statter. “This is to reduce the risk for really everyone who lives in forest fire areas.”

Harry Statter is the CEO of Frontline Wildfire Defense, a start-up that developed a roof sprinkler system to help homeowners protect their properties from forest fires.

Courtesy Frontline Wildfire Defense

The defense system cost Arora about $ 10,000, although Frontline’s systems averaged between $ 15,000 and $ 25,000, according to Statter. Arora said he decided to rebuild the home because of his family’s emotional attachment to the place where his children grew up. Paying $ 10,000 for the fire protection sprinklers was well worth the money, he said.

“It’s an emotional investment and a financial investment. Our children grew up there,” said Arora. “You want to make sure you’re doing all you can.”

Arora turned the system on to humidify his property a few months ago when there was a fire nearby, but he still has to rely on the system to fight a fire. But perhaps most importantly, the system is something tangible that Arora can do rather than passively watch.

“Most of all, what it means to me is peace of mind,” said Arora.

Sylvia Wu and her husband decided to protect their Corralitos, California home against forest fires this year with Firemaps, a start-up that helps homeowners identify the most vulnerable parts of their property.

Courtesy of Sylvia Wu

Reducing the risk

Tech co-worker Sylvia Wu and her husband were on a road trip in September 2020 when they became anxious. Wildfires had spread in Santa Cruz County, California, and they were getting uncomfortably close to their home in Corralitos.

Fortunately, nothing happened, but in June 2021, the couple decided to take steps to protect their home. Wu contacted her former colleague at Uber, Jahan Khanna, a serial entrepreneur whose newest start-up, Firemaps, is helping homeowners secure their homes against forest fires.

Firemaps uses technologies such as drones, computer vision, satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to analyze a house and determine which parts are most at risk from forest fires and what steps can be taken to improve its resilience.

Firemaps creates a 3D model of the house and presents the homeowner with a list of recommendations. After the homeowner has decided which one to accept, Firemaps offers the jobs to his network of contractors, all of which have been checked beforehand. Firemaps does not charge homeowners for the service, but instead takes agency fees from contractors.

Firemaps is a start-up that uses technologies such as drones, computer vision, satellite imagery and artificial intelligence to create 3D renderings of houses to analyze and determine which parts of a property are most at risk from forest fires and what steps to take can be done to improve their resilience.

Courtesy Firemaps

Khanna said he and his co-founders feel that not enough is being done to protect homes from the increasing risks of climate change.

“The founding team all live in California. We deal with forest fires ourselves, ”said Khanna. “It didn’t seem like there were that many people working on the practical effects of climate change in the here and now. That seemed like an opening and a need that we could fill.”

Firemaps identified a number of steps Wu and her husband could take to protect their home.

This included lifting the canopy around the building, cutting down a bamboo grove, removing a large tree that was right next to the house, shrinking ornamental bushes and grass around the house, and removing decomposed granite that is non-flammable .

“I’ve always wanted to go out with a tape measure and measure things, but you know, you get busy, you get lazy and I never did,” said Wu.

Jahan Khanna is a serial entrepreneur whose newest start-up, Firemaps, is helping homeowners secure their homes against forest fires.

Courtesy Firemaps

Wu and her husband decided to implement the recommendations and after two full working days the contractors were able to complete the job. Wu said she paid $ 4,000 for the job with her boyfriend’s discount.

“Nothing will stop your house from burning down if the fires get really bad,” said Wu. “You can always do that, but I just wanted to make sure I was taking every precaution. Anything beyond that is not really in my control. “

Once a job is complete, Firemaps creates another 3D rendering of the house. The company is verifying that the work has been done properly and is telling home insurance, as well as the local fire department and any other bodies that need to know, Khanna said.

With climate change a persistent global problem, said Khanna, people must take steps to protect themselves.

“People’s first tendency is to move away. But people need to be aware that this is a major crisis and it will not go away, ”said Khanna. “If we don’t do this hard work, it will get worse. We have to deal with this problem or it will get worse. “