Researchers at Stanford University, USA, have developed a kind of environmentally-friendly gel that prevents forest fires, it said Monday.
The preventive treatment is described this Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and is a fluid that helps slow common forest fires.
Applied in ignition-prone areas, the material can prevent the spread of fires, even in weather conditions where conventional retarders have no effect. In addition to being more effective, researchers say the product is cheaper as well.
"This has the potential to make forest firefighting much more proactive than reactive," said Eric Appel, a senior research author, assistant professor of materials science and engineering.
Currently, he explained, what is being done is to be alert to fire-prone areas and when these sparks go "running them out".
Climate change and global warming, however, are making the climate warmer and drier, intensifying the destructive power of fires and prolonging the most critical season. In the last two years there have been four of the 20 largest fires ever and eight of the 20 most destructive in the history of California, United States.
In Portugal, the worst fires have also happened in the last two years, with two moments of great fires causing over a hundred deaths. Traditionally the north and center of the country are the most affected areas.
Researchers note that the most commonly used commercial retardants use ammonium phosphate as an active ingredient but it is only effective for a short time. The technology now developed, a cellulose-based gel, remains in the vegetation even with wind and rain.
"You can put 20,000 gallons (76,000 liters) of this in an area for prevention, or one million gallons (3.7 million liters) of the traditional formula after the fire started," said lead study author Anthony Yu.
The researchers worked with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to conduct tests and concluded that the gel is fully effective even after heavy rain. Under the same conditions a flame retardant is no longer effective.
Investigators are now working with the California Department of Transportation to test the material in high-risk areas near the roads.
Stanford-developed gel contains non-toxic materials that are widely used in food, medicine, cosmetics and agricultural products. The gel can be applied using standard spray equipment or from aircraft.
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