Research being done in Cleveland could save homes from wildfires in the West (video)

Case Western Reserve University research indicates whole-house fire blankets could save structures in wildfires.
Updated: Oct. 15, 2019 at 1:59 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) -For more than a decade researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, have been testing the idea of wrapping homes and structures in fire blankets to keep them from burning in wild fires.

Professor Fumiaki Takahashi’s research was recently published by Frontiers in Mechanical Engineering, which indicates by wrapping a home in a fire blanket not only are you keeping flames from getting to the structure but it also helps reflect the heat.

“A blanket may work if the fires moves quickly and/or the exposed heat intensity is within each blanket’s performance limit,” Takahashi told Cleveland 19.

For years they have been testing what material the whole-house fire blanket would need to be of.

Tests started with wrapping a simple birdhouse sized model and simulating a fire.

Eventually the tests moved up to a wrapped shed in an actual controlled wild fire in New Jersey.

The outside of the shed was covered with four different kinds of fire blanket:

  1. 100% fiberglass with aluminum foil coating
  2. Fiberglass structure wrap with aluminized coating
  3. Amorphous silica with aluminized coating
  4. Fiberglass with aluminized polyester coating

“The test was a success overall in that the results showed both no damage to the fire blankets and the wood structure,” Takahashi said.

Below is the actual test done in New Jersey in 2011:

Wildfires are typically fast moving, usually driven by wind, and the fuel burns quickly because of dry conditions.

“The blankets available under current technology may last for several minutes under fairly severe but steadily spreading fire front such as the case in the wildfire exposure test conducted in New Jersey," Takahashi said. “However, further developments of advanced blanket systems are needed to withstand against a longer fire exposure, which may cause structure-to-structure ignition.”

One of the dangers when wildfires spread into neighborhoods is when one home catches fire it gives off an immense amount of heat.

That heat is so intense it can cause the next home to catch fire.

So while the shed test did remarkably well, it only had to withstand intense flames for approximately two minutes as the wildfire swept through, fueled by wind.

Some of the next work that needs to be done is in the area of deployment.

In the past researchers studied the idea of a device installed at the top of a home, housing the blanket, which could be deployed automatically or manually.

If a homeowner had enough notice Takahashi said blankets could even be installed manually.

“Currently, multiple blankets are installed on sections of a house manually by professional installers and it would take a few hours to cover an entire house,” Takahashi said. “In fact, the blanket deployment method is one of the areas need to be developed further.”

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