Courtesy Rancho Santa Fe Fire Protection District

When last October's out-of-control wildfires pushed toward The Bridges, a Lennar Homes luxury development in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Lennar manager Key Ayers stayed put. After sending 140 employees home and seeing the community's well-heeled residents safely off, Ayers (who is also president of The Bridges' homeowners association) manned a water truck in the deserted neighborhood. For several hours, he and a handful of workers hosed down the occasional flaming bush or patch of windblown embers.

"I'm not going to tell you it was pleasant, because it wasn't," says Ayers. "The fire was 200 yards away, and it was hot and smoky. But we had good firebreaks [including the community's golf course], and the fire department was here too. And it worked out." When the flames had passed, not one of the development's multimillion-dollar houses had...

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