Santa Rosa architect Sara Harrison Woodfield is a leading architect reducing wildfire risk for homes vulnerable to wildfires. Hers has been a decades-long crusade, with Harrison Woodfield being one of a handful of Wine Country architects who is strongly reluctant to design wooden homes in wildfire prone areas. She favors noncombustible materials like RSG-3D, a thick fire-retardant foam panel sandwiched between wire mesh and coated on both sides with concrete. Home builders are gradually becoming more aware of such materials. Harrison Woodfield has worked with and recommends one such home builder fully-experienced in using noncombustible materials like RSG-3D, Gateway Builders, Inc. located in Santa Rosa, CA.
Surveying rebuilt homes in neighborhoods almost totally destroyed by wildfire, Sara comments, ““If you drive around, you will see one wood-frame house after another — which will blow away pretty easily in the next fire,” she said. “My argument is always, why wouldn’t you do something different if you could afford it financially?”
Her crusade is “catching fire,” especially now in current times with California and other Western States being devastated by the worst wildfires in history. More than 7,900 wildfires have burned more than 5,300 square miles in California this 2020 year. Even as her new fire-resistant projects emerge from the ashes of burned homes, smoke from nearby wildfires cloud them.
The press is taking notice of her crusade, too. Harrison Woodfield’s work has recently been featured in “The San Francisco Chronicle” as one of the few expert architects using her decades of experience to defend her clients’ homes from wildfire destruction, stating, “Harrison Woodfield is one of a handful of Wine Country architects who is strongly reluctant to design wooden homes in areas vulnerable to wildfire.” Read the full article – “Nothing to burn’: Fire-hardened homes in Wine Country give peace of mind to owners but remain rare.”
An additional “San Francisco Chronicle” article – “Heartbreaking’: Sonoma County homes rebuilt after fires could be just as vulnerable to flames” – describes the vulnerability and heartbreaking devastation possible as experts are questioning whether the new homes that have popped up in Sonoma County, and elsewhere in the fire-ravaged state, are any safer than the ones lost in recent years, with Sara Harrison Woodfield as an exception.
A third “San Francisco Chronicle” article – “The fire-resistant home is coming to California, and here’s what it looks like” – was updated and republished on September 23, 2020 in view of the wildfires sweeping the state. In the article, Harrison Woodfield says many clients are choosing what she calls “solid wall construction” instead of traditional wood framing for a higher-category of fire resistance. “There are a lot of products where you can have a solid wall, where you can have concrete on the inside and foam insulation on the outside,” says Woodfield, who has been working as an architect in the region for 30 years.
The cost of defending homes from wildfire destruction is a wise investment – and one that does not compromise the beauty of her designs. One home she recently designed, the Tansey house, sits in Bennett Ridge, an upscale neighborhood overlooking Trione-Annadel State Park. But the Tansey’s home is an exception there. The only wood in the Tansey’s 3,200-square-foot house, still under construction, will be the floors and kitchen cabinets. As Frank Tansey and Nancy Watson-Tansey sat in traffic trying to escape the 2017 Tubbs Fire that destroyed their home on Sonoma County’s Bennett Ridge, Frank, retired dean of admissions at Sonoma State University, told Nancy, “If this ever happens again I want to pull out of the driveway knowing that when we return home, the house is going to be there.”
For those who can afford it, Harrison Woodfield also advocates for exterior sprinkler systems like the one made by Colorado-based company Wave Guard. The sprinkler system has ultraviolet sensors that detect fire more than 300 yards away. The system has its own water tanks, pumps and generator and automatically starts dousing the property before the fire arrives.
The wildfire devastation in California, as in other western states, is alarmingly growing. Data shown by “Wildfire Today” shows the worsening trend, which is even worse since the data reported. Harrison Woodfield Architects, is one of the very few firms designing homes to withstand the onslaught, using decades of front line experience to do so.