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Flame Safe retardant could protect homes from fire

by Jane Stebbins

Information:

The cost to apply Flame Safe to a structure is about 70 cents a square foot, or $1,400 for a 2,000-square-foot roof. Tharp also works with state and federal agencies to help residents in fire-prone areas obtain grant money for the treatment.

SUMMIT COUNTY – Patrick Tharp understands the fear that comes with fire. It was, after all, only five years ago that he was pulled, unconscious, from a burning home in Silverthorne.

Now, he sells a fire retardant designed to reduce the chances of a fire igniting homes.

“It’s added belief in what I’m doing,” he said of his rescue and business venture. “We were completely overwhelmed by the smoke. The timbers were starting to spontaneously ignite. We didn’t come to until an hour later.”

The product he sells, Flame Safe, is applied to wooden shingle roofs, decks and siding. It’s water-soluble, so if overapplied, it won’t harm plants. If a fire brand or firework lands on top of the house, Tharp said, treated wooden shingles are less likely to ignite, thus allowing the ember to burn out. The treatment is good for five years, Tharp said.

The product is based on the premise that three components – heat, fuel and oxygen – are needed to keep a fire going. Flame Safe, Tharp said, reacts with heat to convert combustible gases and tars to non-combustible carbon char, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The chemical reaction also causes the surface – the treatment on, say, a roof – to bubble up and create a barrier between the fire and the roof.

“This is not a fireproof product – to fireproof something against a firestorm is impossible,” Tharp said. “It allows an added protection; it increases the chance that a hot coal landing on the roof won’t ignite it as fast if it were treated.”

The retardant is seen as one more weapon in the battle against wildfires.

“Along with good mitigation, it really does work,” said Patti Maguire, county wildfire mitigation officer. “Your house can survive fire, the forest can survive fire – if it’s a low-intensity ground fire. We’re good at putting those out. But if you don’t have mitigation and trees crown out, then the forest is dead and you have to rebuild. If you have a home surrounded by woods, it would be a good thing to have on hand.”

Tharp, whose father, Rick, has operated the Jackson, Wyo.-based Flame Safe of the Rockies for the past 30 years, said such fire protection is critical for people whose homes border the forests – particularly in drought years like this.

Some insurance companies offer discounts for homeowners who apply such treatments to their homes, Tharp said. Others are starting to require businesses and homes to apply some fire retardant.

Six wildfires currently are burning throughout the state, and scores of homes in the fires’ paths have burned.

“Some people think that just because they don’t live in the trees, they’re safe,” Tharp said. “They can catch fire from a distance. Trees a mile away can blow in embers. And many houses have grass and brush growing right up to them.”

Tharp offers free burn tests for people with older roofs. He takes two weathered shingles, treats one and ignites both of them.

“Most people will find their 4- or 5-year-old shingles will light up pretty quickly,” Tharp said. “The treated shingle will be charred, but there will be no combustion.”

He cited a 40,000-acre Green Knoll wildfire in Wyoming last summer, in which treated homes were left virtually unscathed, while neighboring homes burned to the ground.

Tharp’s firm is there after the conflagration, as well, offering clean-up services to remove slurry and char from homes that have been minimally damaged.

“It’s cheaper for the insurance company to pay to have it cleaned up and re-treated than to put another roof or siding on the house,” Tharp said. “It’s often included in insurance policies as part of the cleanup.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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