Forest fires are spreading further and wreaking more havoc than they have in recent memory. In an attempt to fight the blazes, fire experts and ordinary civilians are turning to a flashy method to protect historic trees and precious buildings: wrapping them in fire-resistant aluminum foil from Forest.
This technique is not new: Fire departments in Wildland Fire Country have used aluminum foil for decades to protect structures such as ranger posts, monuments, and buildings far away from the US Forest. Service. But recent photos of miraculously intact homes amid smoldering rubble have prompted some homeowners to take matters into their own hands, sometimes even paying big bucks for the same shiny wrapping material the pros use.
The basics of DIY wrapping paper
Several homeowners have used a protective sheet to prevent their homes from being destroyed by forest fires in recent months. At the end of August, Eric Raymond managed to protect his cabin in the Twin Bridges, California area from the destructive Caldor fire by covering it with thick aluminum foil he obtained from his employer, a company manufacturing vacuum valves.
Other owners have taken a high-tech approach: weeks after Raymond’s success, Martin Dikey spent over $ 6,000 on fire-resistant wrapping paper laced with fiberglass and acrylic adhesive to save his second home, a wooden house on the California side of Lake Tahoe. This highly technical material is the same material used by the Forest Service and the National Park Service to protect sensitive structures. But you can’t just go out and run a few rollers around your house.
âIt’s not easy to wrap a structure. To do it right it takes a lot of people and it has to be secured properly, âsays Chad Cook, assistant fire chief with the Ventura County Fire Department in Camarillo, Calif. He recommends that people only attempt this difficult and expensive process if three factors are all in their favor: access to appropriate materials, timing of fire threat and environmental conditions.
The right materials
Forest fires produce three types of heat. The flames themselves give off a radiant heat, which is what you experience when standing near a campfire. The fire also creates drafts, which carry heat by convection, and can bring glowing embers for the journey. Finally, conducted heat occurs when flames touch something and burn it directly.
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Effective fire protection protects against all three types of heat. That’s why a foil specially designed to withstand wildfire temperatures using layers of insulation material and a high-gloss exterior coating is your best choice for wrapping a home or any other piece of property. The standard foil in your pantry – even the heavy items Raymond used in his cubicle – likely won’t cut it in severe forest fire conditions.
âThe real problem with the foil you would get in the grocery store is that it wouldn’t withstand the environment created by fire,â says Cook. âIt’s too thin, too brittle. While the sheen of regular aluminum foil can help deflect some of the radiant heat from a fire, it is too brittle to protect against convective and conducted heat.
If you’re willing to pay a lot of money for some proper packing material, you’ll also need a few other tools: at least a stapler with lots of staples, duct tape, several ladders, and plenty of help from friends or professionals. Don’t attempt a big packaging project unless you can get your hands on all of these items long before a wildfire happens.
Aluminum foil wrapping typically involves stapling long sheets of wrapping material directly to the exterior of a structure. These sheets should be properly layered and sealed with staples or tape to prevent the wind from loosening them. Any vulnerability in this barrier could allow embers to squeeze through the packaging and ignite the building inside. This makes for precise and painstaking work that cannot be rushed.
âIt takes longer than you might think to apply the structure wrap,â says Cook. âIt’s a feat to wrap up a big house or a cabin. He remembers participating in packaging projects that took a team of firefighters over 10 hours to cover a single building. And even with four professional contractors helping him, Dikey said his Lake Tahoe home took 12 and a half hours to wrap. For this reason, it’s crucial to allow a lot more time to wrap around a structure than you think you need.
If you decide to embark on a packaging project, heed local warnings regarding approaching fires and always prioritize personal safety on your belongings. Start as many days as possible before the fire arrives and never ignore an evacuation order to wrap up your home at the last minute. If you don’t have enough time to completely cover your home long before danger strikes, you can still protect it by covering its windows, vents, and any other openings where embers might find their way into the house. interior. And if you can only cover one side of your house, choose the one with the most trees, grasses, vegetation, and debris nearby, Cook says.
Isolated buildings in remote, well-cleared areas are the best candidates for foil wrapping. This is because organic matter provides fuel for forest fires and its absence can prevent flames from lingering around your home. âThe best action you can take is to keep your property free from fuel and debris,â says Cook. âYou have to take care of the landâ¦ and keep the growth to a minimum. “
[Related: Californiaâs forest management isnât the problem]
Even the strongest foil used by the pros is only meant to protect buildings for short periods of fire exposure (around five to 10 minutes) while a wildfire breaks out. This is why it is generally not used in residential areas, where neighboring houses and other unprotected structures can provide hours of fuel. Starving trees, vegetation, fallen branches, and other natural debris into a fire can help aluminum foil packaging protect your belongings more effectively.
What if your house only has a few trees around it? Firefighters have successfully used a structural wrap to protect ancient sequoias from burns by swaddling their bases in the material. You could do the same for the trees around your house, but Cook says the flames will likely simply spread to the treetops of adjacent trees, becoming a “crown fire” that spreads between the upper branches to reach your house. This means that it is better to use aluminum foil to cover the more vulnerable parts of the structure itself, rather than the fuel sources around it.
Other methods of protection
Overall, film wrapping is only a good idea if you have the best conditions. If a forest fire is definitely approaching but it is still a few days away, and you’re willing to pay top dollar for the same fancy foil that firefighters use, and your property is located in a remote location on well-cleared land, and you have a small army of people ready to help you, go ahead. Just be aware that despite all these precautions, aluminum packaging is not guaranteed to save your belongings.
If time, money, or logistics aren’t on your side, Cook recommends exploring another last-minute protection option: fire retardant gel. This sprayable substance is cheaper and easier to apply than foil wrap, and can help insulate your belongings against all three types of heat.
âIt sticks to the side of your house and has tremendous heat absorbing capacity,â says Cook. “I have [even] saw people covering their cars with it. He also recommends investing in a fireproof safe to store your most valuable possessions. This way, even if you can’t protect your home, the most important items in it still have a chance to survive.