What to Know
- Phos-Chek makes a colorless version of fire retardant for homes.
- One jug makes five gallons of retardant, and the cost just $59.
- A Malibu resident said it saved her home.
A woman in Malibu who lived through the Woolsey Fire says her home would be in ashes had she not taken some preventive measures which included the purchase of a do-it-yourself fire retardant that's available to everyone.
The flames of the Woolsey Fire that reduced neighboring homes to ashes burned to the very edge of Sandra Kossacoff's home and stopped.
How did her home survive when others' homes didn't?
"There's all kinds of preventive measures they can take," said Joe Torres, a firefighter and the owner of All Risk Shield. "If you live in the WUI, which is Wildland Urban Interface, you want to go and you want to start with fuel reduction."
Crews had cut down trees, brush and plants that could quickly ignite near properties, and then sprayed the flame retardant Phos-Chek.
"We're most commonly known as the red retardant coming out of an airplane," said Chris Thompson, the manager of the company Phos-Chek.
Phos-Chek is the bright red dust you've seen cascading down from firefighting planes. The company Phos-Chek also makes a colorless version for homes.
The application doesn't require the expertise of a firefighter.
Phos-Chek advises to apply the retardant as close to the vegetation as possible.
You will need a sprayer and some water.
Thompson says a typical home perimeter will use between five and 20 gallons.
If you have the application done properly, it's very effective.
Torres and the people at Phos-Chek say you only apply it to the vegetation around your home -- not on your home -- and you don't have to wait to apply as a fire is dangerously approaching.
"The last time we had it applied was in August we were leaving on vacation. It was dry around here," Kossacoff said.
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An August application snuffed out a November fire. Torres said every home where he used the retardant in the Woolsey Fire area survived.
Kossacoff lost some pool equipment, but the flames that burned for days on end, forcing evacuations and destroying property, died at her home's foundation.
"We feel that without all the measures we took, especially without Phos-Chek, we wouldn't have a house," Kossacoff said.
Phos-Chek says its product is safe for humans, pets and plants.
It's recommended the retardant be applied quarterly or bi-annually.
A sprinkler system or heavy rains could wash away the retardant and limit its effectiveness.
For under $200, a homeowner in a high-risk area could purchase enough for 20 gallons -- enough to cover the perimeter of a very large home.
Other Phos-Check cleaning tips
If a helicopter carrying the red stuff -- not the colorless Phos-Chek applied to the home in a DIY fashion -- covers your house, there are ways to remove it.
Back in 2016, the Rancho Cucamonga-based company Phos-Chek along with Angeles National Forest Service Office provided tips on how to clean the product should you ever need to.
Don't power-wash red Phos-Chek. If using a higher pressure power-washer, the tool may force the product deeper into whatever is being cleaned, especially porous services like concrete, advised George Matousek of ICL Performance Products LP in Rancho Cucamonga. If you power-wash Phos-Chek, it might never come off.
Don't let pets eat the Phos-Chek, and be careful not to leave standing water that may have run off from washing.
The retardant has the ingredient ammonia, and may burn if it gets into cuts, so avoid getting it on your skin.
Rinse the Phos-Chek off of your home with water from your garden hose as there is no need for pressure higher than that. The Phos-Chek is 100 percent water soluble. Wet the red retardant down with the hose, wait 15-20 minutes and repeat, and the Phos-Chek will begin to come off.
The sooner you wash it off with water, the better.
Sometimes the Phos-Chek sticks to more porous surfaces like a roof, wood or sidewalk. Use a soft bristle brush to speed things up.
If it gets on your skin, wash it with gentle soap and water. Use a moisturizer as many fire retardant chemicals are drying to skin.
The good news for the person who doesn't have time to clean it is the product should fade in direct sunlight over two weeks to two months, Matousek said. In Southern California and other parts of the country that see a lot of sun, exposure will fade the product until it's almost invisible, depending on how much sun it gets.