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Fire survivor’s product could spare others’ homes from going up in flames

Patrick Tharp understands the fear that comes with fire. It was, after all, only five years ago that he was pulled, unconscious, from a burning home in Silverthorne.

Now, he sells a fire retardant designed to reduce the chances of a fire igniting homes.

“It’s added belief in what I’m doing,” he said of his rescue and business venture. “We were completely overwhelmed by the smoke. The timbers were starting to spontaneously ignite. We didn’t come to until an hour later.”

The product he sells, Flame Safe, is applied to wooden shingle roofs, decks and siding. It’s water-soluble, so if overapplied, it won’t harm plants. If a firebrand or firework lands on top of the house, Tharp said, treated wooden shingles are less likely to ignite, thus allowing the ember to burn out. The treatment is good for five years, Tharp said.

The product is based on the premise that three components – heat, fuel and oxygen – are needed to keep a fire going. Flame Safe, Tharp said, reacts with heat to convert combustible gases and tars to noncombustible carbon char, nitrogen and carbon dioxide. The chemical reaction also causes the surface – the treatment on, say, a roof – to bubble up and create a barrier between the fire and the roof.

“This is not a fireproof product – to fireproof something against a firestorm is impossible,” Tharp said. “It allows an added protection; it increases the chance that a hot coal landing on the roof won’t ignite it as fast if it were treated.”

Tharp, whose father, Rick, has operated the Jackson, Wyo.-based Flame Safe of the Rockies for the past 30 years, said such fire protection is critical for people whose homes border the forests – particularly in drought years like this.

Some insurance companies offer discounts for homeowners who apply such treatments to their homes, Tharp said. Others are starting to require businesses and homes to apply some fire retardant.

“Some people think that just because they don’t live in the trees, they’re safe,” Tharp said. “They can catch fire from a distance. Trees a mile away can blow in embers. And many houses have grass and brush growing right up to them.”

Tharp offers free burn tests for people with older roofs. He takes two weathered shingles, treats one and ignites both of them.

“Most people will find their 4- or 5-year-old shingles will light up pretty quickly,” Tharp said. “The treated shingle will be charred, but there will be no combustion.”

He cited the 40,000-acre Green Knoll wildfire in Wyoming last summer, in which treated homes were left virtually unscathed, while neighboring homes burned to the ground.

The cost to apply Flame Safe to a structure begins at 70 cents a square foot, which comes out to $1,400 for a 2,000-square-foot, single-story, easy roof pitch house. Houses and roofs that are more difficult to access cost more, Tharp said.

Tharp said his company sometimes works with groups of homeowners or homeowners associations to treat several structures at the same time.

“We love working with homeowners associations,” Tharp said.

Tharp’s= firm also offers clean-up services to remove the retardant that air tankers drop on wildfires, which can also end up on homes, patios and sidewalks. The red retardant has a consistency that ranges from a thin motor oil to paint, Tharp said. It must be removed from surface areas, or it will bleed through paints and stains applied later to cover up the discoloration.

“It’s cheaper for the insurance company to pay to have it cleaned up and re-treated than to put another roof or siding on the house,” Tharp said. “It’s often included in insurance policies as part of the cleanup.”

Tharp said the retardant is blasted off with an environmentally friendly, baking soda-based ash. His firm was hired to clean up several houses after a fire near Jackson Hole, Wyo. last summer. “It was amazing how quick and easy it was to clean them,” Tharp said.

Tharp is operating out of Summit County this summer, and has two crews working western Colorado. “We have a pretty fast response,” Tharp said. “I’ll be here until the snow flies.”

Tharp can be reached at 1-307-690-6028, or 1-800-210-9419 (access code 74).

Summit Daily News reporter Jane Stebbins contributed to this report.


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