EAST LAKE — We've all seen the images: Frantic residents using garden hoses to wet down their homes as a wildfire approaches.
Now, East Lake Fire Rescue is adding another level of protection for homeowners trying to save their property. The department recently bought a fire-blocking gel called Barricade, which can be sprayed on homes and other structures as a wildfire approaches.
With Brooker Creek Preserve in his jurisdiction, East Lake Deputy Chief Steve Rogers said, "We know the challenges of fighting a brush fire and the challenges of keeping that from becoming a house fire."
The product can also be used to protect homes at risk for damage because they are adjacent to a burning home, Rogers said.
Primarily, the product will be used by firefighters, but the department may also distribute it to people whose homes are threatened, so residents can apply it themselves. That will free up firefighters needed in other areas.
"You can spray this product on and move on and it will do its job," Rogers said. "That allows us to do other things."
The gel product, which is connected to a hose and sprayed on, lasts a minimum of 6 to 8 hours, but may work 24 to 36 hours after application, depending on how thickly it's put on, according to the company's web site. The company says it should not damage exterior paint that is already in good condition. The gel washes off with water, though sometimes a pressure washer may be required.
Barricade works by trapping water molecules to create a "wet blanket" around a structure's exterior, according to the web site.
It can be used on houses, shake roofs, decks, doors and windows, eaves, fences and outbuildings. The product is also effective on materials likely to ignite and feed a fire, such as log piles, plants and trees — even propane tanks.
The fire department spent $4,828, which was paid out of county funds set aside for Brooker Creek Preserve protection. The department currently has enough of the gel to cover 24 homes up to 2,500 square feet.
Drought conditions such as those the Tampa Bay area experienced last fall increase the possibility of wildfires. So, too, can a hard freeze, which kills off vegetation and leaves dried brown tinder in its wake.
Rogers said the product has the potential to save homes that might otherwise be doomed by an out-of-control wildfire. But Rogers cautioned the department does not want people out spraying down their house as flames near.
"One thing we want to stress is we're not advocating people putting themselves in the line of fire," Rogers said.
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.