Calif. firefighters to use gel fire protection for houses

By J. Harry Jones
San Diego Union Tribune

PALOMAR MOUNTAIN, Calif. – During a demonstration of an amazing gel that could save his home, Palomar Mountain resident Bret Thorne decided to test it out.
He sprayed the stuff on his forearm and stuck it into a fire.

Seconds clicked by. He never flinched.

The stuff – Barricade gel – clearly works. The top of Palomar Mountain, where most of the community's roughly 300 residents live, has not burned in recorded history. And with a few small exceptions, the mountain's sides haven't been hit by fire for decades. The trees are tall, the brush is thick, and despite last weekend's rain, everything is still really dry.

The fear of a brush fire sweeping the mountain is ever present.

The Palomar Mountain Volunteer Fire Department recently held a Barricade gel demonstration for residents. Using a jug filled with gel attached to a garden hose, a firefighter sprayed the product quickly onto a building. Water from the hose is soaked up in the gel and stored in layers of millions of tiny bubbles.

The gel can protect trees and houses far longer than ordinary water because the water inside the gel boils off one layer at a time, while water alone can evaporate quickly.

According to the Barricade Web site, each layer holds the heat away from the next layer of bubbles beneath. As a result, the gel can provide thermal protection from fire long enough for a blaze to blow past even at 3,500 degrees. During the Paradise fire in 2003, dozens of homes sprayed with the gel were saved in Valley Center.

“We're really hoping that at the end of a fire, you're worried about rinsing this stuff off because your house is still there,” said Palomar Mountain Fire Chief George Lucia.

The demonstration will be repeated this weekend at an annual Labor Day celebration and fundraiser.

A $20,000 county grant recently allowed the fire department to purchase enough Barricade gel for all homes on Palomar Mountain. Jugs and applicators soon will be stored in key locations around the mountain for residents to use before fleeing when fire breaks out. Lucia and the department's Community Emergency Response Team coordinator, Bill Leininger, are encouraging people to buy a Barricade kit from the department at cost for $220.

“Think of it as an insurance policy,” Lucia said.

As a fire approaches, things get very hectic very quickly, Lucia said. People who own gel kits can spray their homes first, then help spray other buildings – perhaps those of people who aren't home, with the community supply.

Copyright 2007 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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