System offers high-tech wildfire protection
EAGLE COUNTY ” The latest news in home fire protection isn’t magic, but it’s pretty neat, and could save homes in remote areas susceptible to wildfires.
A pair of companies, FireVeil and Western States Fire Protection, are marketing, installing and servicing the Firebreak Spray System, a combination of high-tech and low-tech tools that property owners can use to protect their homes from wildfire.
The essence of the system is a handful of tanks, one filled with the same fire retardant the U.S. Forest Service uses to fight wildfires, the others full of compressed air to pump the stuff where it’s needed. In its simplest form, a homeowner can use the tanks to spray retardant over his home when it’s threatened by wildfire.
But many of the homes built in wildfire zones aren’t occupied all the time. That’s where technology comes in.
Western States has been installing Firebreak systems in homes from Eagle County to Southern California, either plumbing the system straight into new homes or retrofitting existing structures. The resulting network of nozzles can coat a home with retardant and shoot fire-stopping goo 70 feet or more around the property’s perimeter.
The home-protecting nozzles can be integrated into foundations or roof eaves, while the perimeter guns ” really just glorified sprinkler heads ” can be hidden in fence posts or outdoor ornaments such as bird baths.
Some homes, such as a new one on the Diamond Star Ranch east of Eagle, have a couple of systems, both containing more than 300 gallons of retardant. That system, built to protect a large home, works the same way smaller systems do, FireVeil Vice President of Sales Don Rue said.
Those systems can be activated a few ways, Rue said. The most simple way to spray is with a switch a homeowner or caretaker can throw. A two-minute delay allows a property owner or caretaker time to get out before the rain of retardant starts.
Another system allows anyone with the right password to trigger the system from anywhere via telephone.
The most elaborate system includes remote sensors tied to the home system, and linked to satellites.
Those sensors, which will eventually ring Deadwood, S.D., can spot a 65- by 65-foot wildfire as far as six miles away. The sensors can either contact emergency services or, if tied into a spray system, automatically spray a home when a fire approaches, Rue said.
The retardant, a biodegradable formula that will wash off with water, can protect a home for several days.
While the claims for the FireVeil system border on fantastic, the technology is getting some serious attention.
At a recent demonstration in Eagle-Vail, Craig George and Mike Greear of Vail Resorts’ risk management office stopped by for a look. While not ready to wholeheartedly embrace the system, George said the technology could have a use at the resort company’s more remote properties.
Watching as a sensor locked onto a flaming paint can, then activated the demonstration system, George and Greear asked Rue about the system’s sensitivity and the options for programming.
“This could be useful,” George said.
The system could find use closer to the valley floor, Vail Fire Department Fire Marshal Mike McGee said.
“If you look at the ‘red zone’ fire danger map the state has, it includes Eagle-Vail, Intermountain, Red Sky Ranch,” McGee said. “Those are areas of concern.”
While not exactly endorsing the FireVeil system, McGee said he believes the technology does work as advertised, and could be useful, both to homeowners and firefighters.
For fire crews, every home protected by retardant spray systems is one less home firefighters have to risk their own safety to protect, McGee said. For homeowners, preventing catastrophic loss can avoid bigger problems.
“We’ve seen tragedies with insurance not covering all of a loss,” McGee said.
Prices of FireVeil systems vary from project to project, but the massive system custom fit into the home near Eagle was more than $20,000.
“It’s comparable to the cost of radiant floor heating or central vacuum systems,” Rue said.
But while an automated, satellite-linked fire prevention system might be a good thing to have, it has to be part of a broader plan, Rue said.
“You can’t get this and then go back to putting old tires under the back porch,” Rue said. “You need the education, you need the defensible space, you need an exit strategy. This is just one more tool with all of those.”
Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 613, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vail Daily, Vail Colorado