The recent Amazon rainforest wildfires have once again brought to the forefront one of the greatest environmental disasters, a problem that will only become more acute with global warming. Hence, states are allotting considerable resources and technology to fight wildfires, while also implementing preventive measures such as cleaning up forests. Despite all these efforts, however, wildfires remain a severe problem year after year. The University of Stanford has now developed another technology initiative to improve the measure of success. Currently, fire retardants are used to prevent the propagation of fires. The problem is that they usually contain toxic compounds and lose their efficiency over time, often in less than an hour. Instead, the researchers have developed a gel-like harmless substance that can be sprayed over large extensions of forest with a high risk of wildfires. This new technology can maintain its efficiency for several months, technically without affecting plants and animals in the area as it is biodegradable.
The retardant gel to prevent wildfires they have created is a cellulose-based liquid compatible with current spraying machinery and has already proven its worth in the tests carried out in California, an area prone to wildfires. There, the researchers have been able to establish that, even following heavy rains, the gel keeps its fire-retardant properties. This video shows the substance at work and its potential in the prevention of fires. Nevertheless, before reaching the market, further tests will need to be carried out to assess any environmental impact. If approved, it could become a powerful ally against wildfires, used over large forest areas, or to create temporary firewalls before the hot season arrives.
Big data, a digital firefighter
Fires are also a threat in urban environments, both in areas close to forests as well as within large cities, where firefighters need to provide a fast response. That is the situation in Los Angeles (USA), where the fire department is testing a new software created by WiFire Lab, a laboratory from the San Diego Supercomputer Center. The technology project, called FireMap, analyzes massive amounts of data from different sources, including topography, type of materials in the area and weather conditions.
Now, every time a fire is recorded in the city, the software carries out an initial analysis that allows predicting the speed and trajectory of the flames. This can be done in a matter of minutes, when a conventional analysis would need several hours that, needless to say, would be much too long to design an intervention. Thus, following the devastating fires that erupted across the state throughout the past summer, the LA firefighters are resorting to all the tools that technology can afford them.