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Thermo Gel Could Be Key To Protecting Homes During Wildfires

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) - An insurance company that deploys private firefighting teams into threatened areas during dangerous wildfires demonstrated a new "last-resort" option for saving structures to some Colorado firefighters on Thursday.

Employees of Chubb Personal Insurance showed the Steamboat Springs Fire Department how a thermo gel coating on the outside of a home could make a big difference.

Several different insurance companies are now bringing private crews to wildfires, and demonstrations like Thursday's allow firefighters working for government agencies to be exposed to some new strategies and to meet some potential teammates.

"It's vitally important, so when we have a fire and (private firefighting teams) show up we know who they are, what they are going to be doing and what their training level is so they can become a part of our team," Steamboat Springs Fire Department Chief Mel Stewart.

During the Waldo Canyon Fire, Chubb Personal Insurance brought in two teams and eight fire engines to help protect homes.

"Because we can put resources on individual properties it also allows (government firefighters) to spread their resources more broadly," said Chubb spokesman Kevin Fuhriman.

In Thursday's demonstration Chubb private firefighter used a flamethrower that blows at what the manufacturer says is 6,000 degrees -- about 10 times hotter than a wildfire -- to make his point. A window pane covered with the gel was targeted by the flamethrower, and with the gel coated on it there was barely any heat coming through on the other side.

If a wildfire is approaching a home, some experts say a home with the gel sprayed on it might survive where it wouldn't have otherwise.

The Chubb employee described the gel as "just a polymer to hold the water." It can be sprayed on homes and on vegetation, and some of the brands are available at hardware stores.

"It's last a last resort," said Fuhriman, who noted that the gel can be sprayed on days in advance.

Stewart said he had heard about the gel, but Thursday was the first time he'd seen it in use.

"I think it's great," he said.

Fire experts say the gel is certainly not guaranteed to protect a house, and they urge people who might be considering using it not to wait too long to apply it if a fire is coming close because they might be risking their personal safety.

Modern technological advances like the gel are certainly helping firefighters these days, but they still say homeowners need to do their part first by being "firewise." Clearing defensible space around homes is still considered the best way to prevent a wildfire from destroying a home.

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