Rumor has it that the US Forest Service is conducting tests with firefighting gels at Pocatello, Idaho. Among those they are trying out is Phos-Chek's ‘Aqua Gel-K’ product, both to see how they like it and also what limitations it may have. This product was independently tested by CalFire (California Department of Forestry) for about 18 months and has been approved for use with their aircraft. Many city fire departments are reluctant to use gels until the forestry folks approve them (concerns about damage to retardant tanks and other factors are key issues).
‘Aqua Gel-K’ can be dropped into the heart of a wildfire (unlike water or foam, which would evaporate before reaching the fuel), used to attack the head directly instead of laying retardant on the flanks only, and can aid in wrapping up a fire much sooner than would otherwise be possible. It could also be applied to homes and structures to protect them from oncoming fires. By applying the gel and then saturating it with water, a home could be left unattended by fire crews and remain virtually fireproof for many hours at a time. This would also cut down on firefighter injuries and deaths (such as happened at the Esperanza Fire in 2006), because fire crews wouldn’t have to worry about defending homes if a fire threatened to overrun their position, but could evacuate safely knowing that the structures in the area were protected.
One can only hope that, if USFS is experimenting with gels, newer fire retardant testing is also on the docket of future projects. For instance, Phos-Chek’s G75 retardant products could also be used to fireproof brush areas that can’t be easily cleared out. KABC-TV’s Eyewitness News showed a segment about the fire danger along LA freeways earlier this week. The homeowners and LAFD wanted the brush cleared out, but CalTrans was reluctant to do so for aesthetic reasons and due to toxins in the soil that would be stirred up while the brush was cleared. G75-W would be ideal in this instance, as it is transparent, protects even living plants without harming them, and turns to fertilizer when the plants get wet. Or G75-F could be used if workers wanted to have some visibility of just what had been treated, as it goes on red at application, then turns transparent a while later. Using either of these products would protect the homes (and brush), maintain the aesthetics of the scenery, and protect CalTrans workers from the toxins in the soil. A win-win-win solution!
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