RENO, Nev. – Martin Diky said he panicked when a large wildfire started running down a slope toward his log home near Lake Tahoe.
The contractor had plenty of time to do a quick investigation and decided to wrap his mountain home in a protective aluminum covering. The material that can withstand intense heat for short periods resembles the aluminum foil of the kitchen drawer, but is modeled after the tent-shaped shelters that wildland firefighters use as a last resort to protect themselves when trapped in flames. .
Diky, who lives most of the time in the San Francisco Bay Area, bought $ 6,000 worth of wrap from Firezat Inc. in San Diego, enough to cover his 1,400-square-foot (130-square-meter) second home on the edge. . from the small community of Meyers in California.
“It’s quite expensive and you’d feel stupid if they stopped the fire before it gets close,” he said. “But I am very glad I did. It was quite stressful when the flames came down the slope. “
The flexible aluminum sheeting that Diky installed in his $ 700,000 home is underutilized because they are expensive and difficult to install, although they have saved some properties, including historic cabins run by the US government.
Fire crews even wrapped the base of the world’s largest tree this week to protect it from wildfires burning near a famous grove of giant redwoods in California’s Sequoia National Park. The colossal General Sherman Tree, some of the other redwoods in the Giant Forest, a museum and a few other buildings were also engulfed amid the possibility of intense flames.
It comes after another aluminum-wrapped home near Lake Tahoe survived the Caldor fire, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Diky’s home, while neighboring homes were destroyed.
The wrap deflects heat from buildings, helping to prevent flammable materials from burning. It also prevents airborne embers, a major factor in the spread of wildfires, from sliding through vents and other openings in a home. With a fiberglass backing and acrylic adhesive, the wraps can withstand temperatures up to 1,022 degrees Fahrenheit (550 Celsius).
Until about a decade ago, most of the damage from wildfires was attributed to houses that caught fire when flames burned nearby vegetation. Recent studies suggest that a larger role is structure-to-structure fires that spread in a domino effect due to the tremendous heat that causes manufactured materials to burst into flames.
The company Diky bought his coats from gets about 95% of its sales from the US Forest Service and National Park Service. Firezat Inc. founding president Dan Hirning estimates that the Forest Service has involved 600 to 700 buildings, bridges, communication towers and other structures in the national forests this year alone.
Firefighters on social media like “large baked potato” wrappers. One who helped install some said it felt like he was “wrapping Christmas presents.”
Forest Service officials say they have been using the wraps for several years throughout the western United States to protect sensitive structures. In Lake Tahoe, they have engulfed the Angora Ridge Lookout, a historic nationally registered fire lookout tower, said Phil Heitzke, the agency’s battalion chief.
“Many times, Forest Service structures are engulfed long before the fire,” he said in a statement. Crews can often focus on protecting other buildings or other jobs.
Firezat sells fire protection rolls 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide by 200 feet (61 meters) long for about $ 700 each. Installation by a contractor typically costs thousands of dollars.
“People think we should sell tons of these things, but not as much as everyone thinks,” Hirning said. Despite the cost, he said a building will not burn unless “the fire falls directly on it.”
A professor of mechanical engineering at Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University published 10 years of research on protective wraps in Frontiers in Mechanical Engineering magazine in 2019, saying they “demonstrated remarkable performance and technical limitations.”
The aluminized surface blocked up to 92% of the convective heat and up to 96% of the radiation, Fumiaki Takahashi said.
The wrap is most effective if a wildfire passes with an exposure of less than 10 minutes, he said. It is less effective in areas with high-density housing, where spreading hells can burn for hours without being stopped by firefighters.
The wraps “promise to be effective, but more research is needed to develop more efficient but still lightweight protection” against severe fires, Takahashi said in an email. He said that he would not recommend them to everyone because they require proper installation.
“But once the installation methods are established (as a standard), I would,” he wrote. “There have been multiple success stories in saving historic cabins by the US Forest Service.”
Hirning said most of the individual buyers he’s had over the years are looking to protect “really expensive cabins, houses, resorts, etc. really expensive.” They include homeowners on $ 5 million lots in Malibu, California, who are asked to sign an agreement that the Forest Service is not responsible for protecting their property in some cases.
A Wyoming rancher once put Hirning in a conference call with a fire commander and an insurance adjuster that he was going to cut his rates if he wrapped a cabin worth around $ 1.5 million.
“These are often people who can’t get fire insurance or their insurance has been canceled. They want to wrap it up to protect their investments that way, ”he said.
Diky suggests seeking additional help to put the wrapper on.
“They recommended that three people could do it in 3.5 hours. I brought in four contractors and worked all day until night … broke our butts for 12.5 hours, ”he said.
Regarding the sales takeoff as a result of the recent wildfires, Hirning emphasized that it is “an extremely seasonal business.”
“The first five years, new competitors appeared every year. And at the end of each year, I got a phone call: “Would you be interested in purchasing our inventory?” He said.
Once it starts to rain and snow, he says he often doesn’t sell anything directly for nine months. However, that could change as climate change contributes to more intense weather and more destructive wildfire seasons, almost all year round.