Blankets Could Protect Structures During Wildfires

California State Parks Superintendent Lori Martin keeps watch on historic buildings as the Carr Fire burns a residence in Shasta, California, on July 26, 2018. Scientists have found that a whole-house fire blanket could protect structures from wildfire damage. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

(CN) A team of researchers led by Fumiaki Takahashi, professor at Case Western Reserve University and lead author of the study, discovered that blankets made from fire-protective materials can be used to shield houses and other buildings from a passing wildfire. They tested several different materials on multiple structures of varying sizes and found that if employed and constructed correctly, a whole-house fire blanket can survive a wildfire’s onslaught and protect the enclosed space.

The researchers said the fire blanket can offer this kind of protection in three distinctive ways.

“The fire blankets aim to prevent structure ignition (1) by blocking firebrands to enter homes through vulnerable spots (gutters, eaves, vents, broken windows, and roofs); (2) by keeping homes from making direct contact with flames of surrounding combustibles (vegetation, mulch, etc.); and (3) by reflecting thermal radiation from a large fire within close range (adjacent burning houses or surface-to-crown forest fires) for a sustained period of time,” according to the study, published Monday in Frontiers in Mechanical Engineering.

This kind of fire protection strategy has been utilized in the past. Spurred on by the increased dangers regarding wildfire activity in recent years, scientists began to explore new methods of combating the problem and discovered a patent was issued during World War II for a flame-retardant curtain device that functioned much like a fire blanket.

Researchers also found the idea of wrapping an entire building in flame protective material is not a new one, as U.S. Forest Service firefighters once wrapped a historic cabin in fire shelter materials to protect it from an oncoming wildfire. Despite the promise of this method, however, current fire-protective technology is limited in one crucial aspect: durability.

“The best performed fire blankets may be able to protect building structures if the heat exposure is relatively short (≈10 minutes). This condition would happen when a wildfire front passes an isolated structure, e.g., a historic cabin. If the heat exposure continues, the fire blanket may more likely to be deteriorated or destroyed, while the building materials are being pyrolyzed and failed eventually,” the study states.

Scientists suggest future breakthroughs on material construction techniques can greatly improve fire blanket technology durability, making the fire blanket method itself a far more viable and effective tool in combating wildfire destruction.

Takahashi did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

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