By Nathaly Garzon
Wildfires have surged in recent years due to climate change. In 2018 alone, 1.8 million acres were burned by wildfires in California. Just last week, more wildfires broke out in the state as well. Scientists have predicted that the number of wildfires will continue to rise as climate change goes unchecked.
Source: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
The rise in wildfires has brought a new urgency to figure out ways in which they can be prevented. Scientists at Stanford University have tackled this challenge and created a gel-like material that can be used to prevent and contain such fires.
The gel’s base comes from cellulose (plant fiber) and other materials that are approved for usage in food and agricultural products. Since its base is plant fiber, the gel is also biodegradable. Its longevity is predicted to be one entire fire season.
Scientists created the gel to function as a fire retardant that cannot be washed away easily. Most existing retardants tend to wither away due to wind or rain. By the time a wildfire starts, the retardant is virtually gone, leaving vegetation exposed. By contrast, studies conducted with the new gel found that it continued to stick to fire-prone vegetation even after half an inch of rain. Further, they observed that the gel could contain a fire to a certain area, effectively reducing the amount of scorch that may occur.
Left: untreated vegetation Right: treated vegetation
This picture shows a side by side comparison of how a fire affected untreated and treated vegetation during a Stanford experiment.
Researchers contend that the material doesn’t need to be applied to entire forests. Instead, it can be applied only to small areas of at-risk vegetation. By focusing solely on these places, the fires would not spread and end quicker.
With the creation of this gel comes a renewed hope that forest acres can be saved from future wildfires. Hopefully, we can make even greater strides towards putting an end to wildfires.