engineers created a huge foil blanket to protect homes from forest fires

engineers created a huge foil blanket to protect homes from forest fires

a team of researchers at case western reserve university have found a way to protect homes from the blaze of a forest fire by wrapping them in a huge foil blanket. after a series of tests demonstrating the viability of this method, researchers hope their findings could help to prevent the damage caused by natural disasters such as wildfires across california.

engineers created a huge foil blanket to protect homes from forest fire

images courtesy of fumiaki takahashi



‘the whole-house fire blanket is a viable method of protection against fires at the wildland-urban interface,’ says lead study author fumiaki takahashi, a professor at case western reserve university, cleveland, ohio, USA, who teamed up with the NASA glenn research center, US forest service, new jersey forest fire service, and cuyahoga community college for this study.


takahashi was approached by people living and working in fire-risk areas who wanted to know if viable products existed commercially. this prompted his research and an initial investigation, which revealed that whole-structure fire blankets were already available.


‘I thought about a means to reduce wildland fire damage and found a US patent ‘conflagration-retardative curtain’ i.e., a fire blanket, issued during world war two,’ he says. ‘in addition, the US forest service firefighters managed to save a historic forest cabin by wrapping it with their fire shelter materials,’ takahashi reports.



although anecdotal reports existed, there was a lack of scientific evidence to back up the ability of fire blankets to protect buildings. using a research grant from the US department of homeland security, takahashi and his team sought to rectify this through a series of experiments.


they tested the ability of different blanket materials to shield structures against fires. the team started with wooden birdhouses exposed to a fire in a room, then door-sized wooden panels on a hillside exposed to a grass fire and finally a wooden shed subjected to a forest fire deliberately started by the fire service in an area where controlled burns are carried out routinely.



‘the fire exposure tests determined how well the fire blankets protected various wooden structures, from a birdhouse in a burning room to a full-size shed in a real forest fire. we tested four types of fabric materials: aramid, fiberglass, amorphous silica, and pre-oxidized carbon, each with and without an aluminum surface.’


‘in addition, we conducted laboratory experiments under controlled heat exposure and measured the heat-insulation capabilities of these materials against direct flame contact or radiation heat.’



the best-performing blankets were fabrics made of fibreglass or amorphous silica laminated with heat-reflecting aluminium foil. they found that the material was strong enough to shield an isolated building from a short wildfire attack, providing up to 10 minutes of protection, but that technological advancement was needed to develop a blanket suitable for extreme scenarios.


‘fire blanket protection will be significant to those living and fighting fires at the wildland-urban interface and presents entrepreneurs and investors with business opportunities,’ takahashi concluded. ‘the implication of the present findings is that the technical community, the general public, and the fire service must work together to take a step-by-step approach toward the successful application of this technology.’



project info


researching body: case western reserve university
collaborators: NASA glenn research center, US forest service, new jersey forest fire service, cuyahoga community college
lead author: fumi takahashi
paper: frontiers in mechanical engineering, doi: 10.3389/fmech.2019.00060

    have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
    all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

    comments policy
    LOG IN
    designboom's comment policy guidelines
    generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
    the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

    what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
    let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

    - please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
    - please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
    - please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
    - please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
    - please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
    (there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
    in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
    the best 100-200 entries too.)

    a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.


    a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

    technology news

    keep up with our daily and weekly stories
    492,661 subscribers
    - see sample
    - see sample