By Maria Medina

PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) — A Stanford assistant professor and his students have invented a weather-resistant fire retardant that could change the way Calfire crews fight fires in California.

“What we want is to prevent those catastrophic fires from happening in the first place,” said Assistant Professor Eric Appel. “What we developed was a new retardant formulation that is able to be used preemptively so you could pretreat areas at risk for fire starts to stop them from starting in the first place.”

The milk-like substance was created in Appel’s Stanford laboratory by his students who worked on it for nearly three years. The scientists developed additives to the red fire retardant that firefighters have used for decades to put out flames.

The substance is weather-resistant to wind, fog, UV rays and up to a half inch of rain. But that’s not all. It’s also been designed to go on vegetation and stay on for an entire fire season or until a major rain event, in which case fire is typically no longer a threat.

“So we’ve been able to show that more of what you spray actually sticks and then also retention, so the fact that it can stay there for the entirety of the peak season, that a single annual treatment will provide protection,” Appel said.

In a video provided by the professor, it shows the fire retardant at work alongside a video of a untreated vegetation. The fire on untreated dry vegetation burned normally as it would, and the treated vegetation smoldered but no flames were ever visible.

The retardant works so well that CalFire and Caltrans began using it in Southern California this fire season alongside roadways where most fire begin, Appel said.

Last week, Appel said both agencies reported that there weren’t any fires on the treated vegetation where there are typically several fires every year.

“I mean, this is why we do what we do. Every one of my graduate students comes in here hoping that they can come up with something that can somehow change the world,” said Appel.

The fire retardant is also environmentally friendly, according to Appel, a facet it shares with the retardant already used by firefighters.