NASA wraps up fire shelter project as ‘Only the Brave’ hits theaters

NASA engineers are almost finished with their years-long project of adding space technology to standard-issue fire shelters

By FireRescue1 Staff

HAMPTON, Va. — As a Hollywood blockbuster sheds light on the 19 firefighters who died in their fire shelters in 2013, a NASA team is wrapping up their project to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

San Francisco Chronicle reported that a team of NASA engineers were building space mission heat shields in 2013 when they heard about the tragedy at Yarnell Hill.

“I saw it on the news,” NASA materials scientist Mary Beth Wusk said. “I called the next day to my team, and they agreed this was something we could potentially look into.”

Wusk and her team reached out to the U.S. Forest Service to partner up with them and spent the next four years building multiple portable fire shelters based on their work on improving the heat endurance of unmanned and manned spacecraft. Their models are now being considered for the new nationwide standard.

The prototypes were tested in Canada with propane torches shooting 1,800-degree flames.

“The craziest stuff usually blows up,” U.S. Forest Service fire shelter project leader Tony Petrilli said. “We were getting ideas well out of the box.”

A final decision on which model will be considered standard for the nation will be made by a panel of scientists, firefighters and risk-management specialists sometime next year.


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