Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Wildfire Preventer

PostedJune 26, 2020

Lede: As wildfire season starts, engineers are developing a new tool to stop them 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.