New technology in fire prevention could save many historic and important buildings that find themselves in the path of out-of-control forest fires.
The Uinta National Forest plans to begin testing this week on a fire- shelter system, weather permitting, that is designed to protect valuable structures.The fire-shelter system consists of several large panels with an aluminized coating sprayed onto a backing fabric and a low-volume sprinkler system that includes a portable water pond, a pump and soaker hoses. A seven-person crew and three vehicles are required to transport the equipment to a site.
The soaker hoses are placed on the roof and along the eaves of a threatened structure and then covered by the panels, which are attached to the structure by screws.
The aluminized coating of the panels reflects heat away from the structure, and the water forms a heat-absorbing layer between the panels and the structure.
The system was developed by Jeffrey Liggett, a firefighter for the Portland, Ore., Fire Bureau and the Forest Service, and the Rural-Metro Corp. of Scottsdale, Ariz.
The adhesive is the same material used on tiles on the outside of the space shuttles to prevent heat damage during re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere, Liggett said.
The system takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to install. Liggett, who has worked on the technology for the past two years, said firefighter safety is enhanced with the fire prevention system.
"It's more proactive than using a hose," he said.
Loyal Clark, public affairs specialist for the Forest Service, said four structures were destroyed locally by forest fires last year.
In order to be effective, firefighters must have advance warning that a structure could be in danger. While there are currently no fire teams in the area trained to install the system, local forest service crews will receive training from the Portland crew throughout the summer.
"You can't just throw it up as flares are advancing," Clark said.
Jason Stanton, a firefighter with Rural/Metro in Oregon, said he has been impressed with the proj-ect. He said the technique can be used to direct flames away for about 10 minutes at 1,000 degrees.
Clark said the system is still being researched and refined and will be tested this fire season. It will be used to defend structures that can't be saved by other tactics.
The system, however, is currently not designed for use in housing areas. The shelters eventually may be available to individual homeowners, but that is at least several years away, Liggett said.
Clark said homeowners living near forests and brushy areas still need to take precautions by keeping foliage cleared from structures.