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Could a massive fire-resistant blanket help save homes from wildfire?

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While not a perfect solution, fire-resistant blankets could provide a first line of defense

A suburban home with a three-car garage sits on a street with embers and the glow of fire in the background. A red fire truck sits in the photo’s foreground.
Riverside County firefighters protect homes in Southern California as the fast-moving Holy Fire approaches a neighborhood in 2018.
Allen J. Schaben Contributor to the Los Angeles Times via Getty

As California enters what some have called the era of the “megafire,” researchers, politicians, and residents are looking for ways to curb the damage. One potential solution? A massive fire resistant blanket that can be draped over homes.

Fumiaki Takahashi, a researcher from Case Western Reserve University who studies fire science and mechanical engineering, recently authored a paper that looks at the viability of draping buildings with a flame-retardant blanket. He found that existing fire blanket technology can reduce the risk of a home burning in a “relatively short wildfire attack.”

Takahashi started looking into large-scale fire blankets after receiving inquires from people in fire prone areas asking what they could do to prevent damage. “I thought about a means to reduce wildland fire damage and found a U.S. patent ‘conflagration-retardative curtain’ i.e., a fire blanket, issued during World War Two,” he told Frontiers Science News.

These blankets have existed for decades, but there’s been little research done on their efficacy. Takahashi and his team tested various materials at different scales from wooden birdhouses set aflame to entire sheds that were burned in a forest fire. They found that blankets made from amorphous silica fabrics laminated with aluminum foil were able to deter flames and insulate the home form heat.

It’s not a foolproof plan, he notes. Current blankets only protect buildings for short periods of time, while fires can rage for days, weeks, and even months. Still, a blanket could provide a first line of defense for developed neighborhoods where fire often spreads from house to house. If deployed on a large scale at the onset of a fire, Takahashi hopes the blankets could significantly dampen a fire’s ability to spread.