Could A New Gel Prevent California’s Deadly Wildfires?

Image taken by Miro this past summer at Mt. Tamalpais State Park, CA.

Working to prevent wildfires in California has come with its own set of challenges. This year, California’s largest utility, PG&E, announced that it will cut off power on high-wind days to prevent sparks from turning into fires, which is a good safety precaution but has also proved cumbersome for residents and businesses:

The Good News: Preventing wildfires from happening in the first place is the end goal, but it’s a complicated one. While many land managers (as well as President Trump) have called for thinning forests, most experts agree that doing so doesn’t significantly prevent fires. However, a newly-developed spray-on sticky gel might soon provide long-term protection against wildfires–something that other flame retardants haven’t been able to do effectively. 

What’s Different about this gel? According to Cosmos Magazine

  • This gel carrier for ammonium polyphosphate (APP), the most common fire retardant used against forest blazes in the US, however unlike previous versions it allows the APP to last for up to 30 days on vegetation making it suitable to be used proactively during high fire-risk months.
  • It’s environmentally benign and has been shown to leave plant respiration and microbial activity unchanged.
  • The ingredients for the gel are readily available, non-toxic, and are generally used in food, drug, cosmetic, and agricultural formulations.

Also worth noting is that clearing trees out of power lines is a dangerous and expensive process, a non-toxic retardant gel can likely be more effective.

Why This Matters: In California, about 70% of wildfires break out near known ignition hazards, such as roads which means that scientists and officials have a decent idea of the zones that can be blanket sprayed with flame retardants to prevent outbreaks of wildfires. Wildfire prevention is a multi-pronged approach but scientific advancements that stop sparks from turning into infernos can lessen panic and anxiety that residents of wildfire-prone states experience each fire season.

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