The Caldor Fire raged in California for over two months.
While, thankfully, no one is known to have perished in it, the fire burned more than 750 structures and 221,000 acres of land before it was fully contained this week, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The Lake Tahoe area was hit particularly hard, and numerous cabins meant for tourism and leisure were burned to the ground by the fire, which started on Aug. 14.
Amid a sea of remains, one cabin near South Lake Tahoe went unscathed — likely as a result of being turned into a giant “baked potato.”
By baked potato, I mean it has been enveloped in what looks like aluminum foil.
As it turns out, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, wrapping a building in what are known as fire blankets or aluminized structure wrap can save it from disaster.
“It is effective for protecting structures for a short period while the wildfire front passes — five to 10 minutes — but longer protection would be needed to prevent structure-to-structure ignition,” Fumiaki Takahashi, an engineering professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, told the Chronicle.
The wrap, generally applied with thousands of staples, isn’t aluminum foil from supermarket shelves, although it is sold in rolls.
“It’s aluminum on the outside, woven threads of polyester and fiberglass inside, and laminated with a high-temperature adhesive,” the Chronicle reported, citing Dan Hirning, the founder of Firezat, a San Diego company that sells the material.
“It’s not tin foil,” Hirning said. “It’s so perfectly engineered after all these years.”
Hirning said houses wrapped in aluminized foil isn’t a new idea — the technology started in the Yellowstone National Park fires in 1988.
Thirty-three years later, Eric Raymond is the owner of the starch-inspired cabin in California. He says it took seven hours and 1,250 staples to cover three sides of the cabin, minus a large area of windows and a side of the home beside a concrete cabin.
He surmised those areas wouldn’t burn. And he covered his two decks with residual metal from a roofing project.
“We bought that property and fixed it up, so I was inclined to protect it,” he told the Chronicle.
“I was hoping later that people would think I was crazy for doing that, that the fire would never get there in the first place. But I figured it couldn’t hurt.”
Raymond was right; Cal Fire said his cabin sustained no exterior damage, the Chronicle reported.
Evidently, the benefits of aluminum go beyond houses. One Twitter user claimed the bases of trees were being wrapped as a method of protecting them.
California still burning. I am house/dog sitting for relatives in Visalia. Dogs, cat & I all started coughing. I checked air quality. It is 287. Anything over 100 is unhealthy. So I am not going out at all. They are wrapping the base of big trees with aluminum foil to save them.
— Laurie A O’Bryne (@adair1946) October 2, 2021
If California residents — the ones who don’t deem the state a lost cause, anyway — want to protect their homes, they are going to have to do it themselves.
Perhaps turning their homes into virtual baked potatoes during a fire will become a common mechanism for doing so.
At the very least, it can’t hurt. In an area prone to wildfires, the added level of protection can’t possibly cost more than losing your home and the memories therein.
Such is the price of poor governance.
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