Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Wildfire Preventor

PostedOctober 18, 2019

Lede: As Virginia warns of a potentially bad wildfire season and dangerous fires continue to burn in California, engineers are developing a new tool to stop wildfires in their tracks.

Randy Atkins: More than eighty-percent of California’s wildfires in the past decade happened at obvious places. Eric Appel, an engineer at Stanford University says that includes campgrounds, roadsides, utilities. So he’s designed a chemical to…

Eric Appel: …pre-treat the areas that are at most risk and prevent them from igniting in the first place.

Randy Atkins: To make it work, Appel encases a fire retardant in a special mix of polymers called a hydrogel. It’s mostly water and when sprayed from aircraft or on-ground equipment…

Eric Appel: …the water evaporates and then it forms a small film on the vegetation. A single annual treatment would provide protection against ignitions for the duration of the season.

Randy Atkins: Appel says tests show it doesn’t harm the plants and eventually biodegrades naturally. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.

The product is being used for the first time this year.