Spray-on gel protects homes from fire

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It could be the last defense on your home as flames creep closer to your property line. People think nothing of putting fire retardant on Christmas trees, so why not on their home?

Heavy vegetation adds to the charm of a fabulous 5-bedroom multimillion-dollar that sits in a wooded area of Marin County. But, that lush greenery could also provide fuel for a major fire. A sticky white gel could be the difference between fire destroying a home or skirting it.

In a demonstration, a bottle sprayed with the thermo gel, a heat-absorbing fire retardant, was able to withstand intense flames from a torch. Another bottle that was not sprayed wilted under the heat.

One key ingredient in the thermo-gel is polymer. Jim Wills of Firestorm Wildland Fire Suppression Inc. and a contractor for Chubb Insurance explained, "The polymer holds the water and that's what becomes the fire protection and heat absorption when applied. It has the ability to stick to glass, wood, under the awning of the house, and the overhangs."

Wills showed 7 On Your Side what happens after thermo-gel is applied to a wood shake roof. A thin layer of the gel was enough to keep flames from even blackening the roof, let alone burn it.

"So in that amount of time, without the fire blocking gel, this whole thing would have been starting on fire and we would have been putting smoke up into the trees," he said.

The Insurance Information Network of California says that several insurers now offer this service. Among them are Chartis, Farmers, and the Chubb group of insurance companies. The programs include educating the homeowner about fire danger, mitigating that danger by clearing brush and other flammable materials when homes are threatened.

"As a last resort, we will gel the property in the event other mitigation efforts deem so," said Kevin Fuhriman with the Chubb insurance group.

Chubb says the program was successfully used to save 14 homes during fires this past May in Santa Barbara.

All three insurance companies say the service adds no extra cost to the policy. Several said it is more cost-efficient to save a home rather than pay to rebuild it.

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