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Environment & Science

The food-safe gel that saved a home from the Blue Cut Fire




The Blue Cut Fire off Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass.
The Blue Cut Fire off Interstate 15 in the Cajon Pass.
Stuart Palley for KPCC

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When the Blue Cut Fire broke out last week, John Meunsterman was ready. The West Cajon valley resident and former combat medic had been living in the area for 35 years and had seen his share of fires. This time around however, he had a new weapon to battle the blaze — and it may have saved his property. 

"I gelled the house, and I gelled my large building shop, and nothing got burnt," Meunsterman said. "I went to one of these disaster prep programs the community of Wrightwood had one time. There was a dealer there selling a product called Barricade II."

"It's incredible how this works," remarked Meunsterman. "It has a thermal protection. It's non-toxic, and it's food grade."

Barricade's website boasts it's the only product of it's kind to win a "Champion" award from the Environmental Protection Agency. The gel breaks down easily, doesn't contaminate groundwater and comes off with water and a soft brush. 

It's a good thing Meunsterman thought ahead — when he returned to his house, the surrounding landscape had been devastated. "The entire West Cajon Valley looks like napalm hit it," he said. Considering Meunsterman served both in the Navy and the Marines, he knows what he's talking about.

"Fire retardant materials the L.A. County Forest Service and others use are pretty damaging environmentally," added Char Miller, professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College and author of "Not So Golden State: Sustainability vs. The California Dream. "If those 100 homes in West Cajon Valley used it, this would be very clear-headed." 

In addition to protections made to one's house, Professor Miller says understanding the behavior of the local environmental landscape is equally important.

"I'm a big fan of place-based analysis, to walk them, to get a feel for them. If you have a house up in the hills somewhere, walk 200 feet from it and look back, and it's startling what lies between you and the house in which you live." Miller adds, "Fire season is lengthening. We have to think about what that implies." 

Eight fires are burning in California right now — only two are fully contained, including the Blue Cut Fire we've been following over the last week. The blaze tore through over 36,000 acres and destroyed more than 100 homes. Evacuation orders for the Blue Cut Fire were lifted Sunday.