By coating vast areas of vegetation in particularly susceptible areas, it’s hoped that this technique could act like a vaccine against future fire outbreaks.
“This has the potential to make wildland firefighting much more proactive, rather than reactive,” says materials scientist and engineer Eric Appel from Stanford University.
“What we do now is monitor wildfire-prone areas and wait with bated breath for fires to start, then rush to put them out.”
Today, when firefighters respond at the site of active fires, they use retardants such as inorganic salt ammonium polyphosphate, or APP, which creates water when it’s burned.
The problem is, these solutions only work in the short-term, because they lose their effectiveness once the water they hold evaporates. And in most wildfires, that can happen in under an hour.
The new gel is essentially a sticky and fire-resilient carrier for these chemical retardants. Made primarily from plant material, the material is cellulose-based, which means it clasps to vegetation throughout rain, wind, or shine.
What’s more, the inventors say it’s also non-toxic and can be safely sprayed onto the environment using current agricultural equipment or aircraft.
So far, it’s been tested on grass and chamise by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire), and in both scenarios the spray provided complete fire protection,…