August 16, 2004

Wet break system helps reduce damage from forest fires

Having successfully used its "wet break" system to help fight forest fires in Saskatchewan, Hydro Engineering, of Vancouver, is now making its innovative system available to businesses, municipalities and individual homeowners in fire-ravaged British Columbia and other Canadian provinces. In addition to helping reduce the environmental devastation wreaked by large-scale forest fires, the technology itself leaves less of an ecological footprint than conventional firebreak methods.

"The firefighting package we have put together allows businesses, municipalities and individuals to take positive action on their own to protect property and possibly lives. In British Columbia, for example, the system could help protect sawmills, woodlots and communities in rural areas," said Hydro Engineering president Tom Huffman.

The Hydro Engineering wet break system involves laying out long lengths of flexible feeder hose in the path of an oncoming fire. A major benefit of the system is that it does not require construction of firebreaks to create a path to lay hose down. These wide firebreaks, an integral and effective component of conventional firefighting techniques, can create environmental problems because they involve removing trees and vegetation. They can also be time-consuming to create.

With the wet break system, the fire-fighting corridor needs only to be wide enough to allow passage of the vehicle pulling the hose, such as a farm tractor. Smaller hoses then run off the main line, with sprinklers on these smaller hoses spraying water and creating the wet break to fight oncoming fires.

Another benefit of the system is its speed of deployment - a critical consideration when high winds can spread wildfires with alarming speed. Once a crew arrives on site, they can have three kilometres of hose stretched out and pumping water within four hours. If engaged on a contract basis, a crew can be on site within 24 hours. Training for the system is supplied by Hydro Engineering.

The wet break system was successfully used on a pilot basis in fire fighting efforts in Saskatchewan in 2002 and 2003. It was put in place several times last year in Saskatchewan, including in the Candle Lake area, where it helped protect 100 homes. It was also used on a limited basis with the serious fires in BC in 2003 when Saskatchewan loaned its system to BC. Fire officials called the system the last line of defense in stopping a fire from spreading from British Columbia to the Bow Valley area in southwestern Alberta.

"Since then, we have ramped up our production capacity and can meet the needs of businesses, municipalities and individuals who want to protect their property from being destroyed or damaged by forest fires," Huffman said, noting that people should plan for protection not only for the bad forest fire season this year, but in the years to come. "With climate change, some experts say we can expect more of the same in terms of serious forest fire situations in the future," he said.

The firefighting system was pioneered by Doug Sand, a Saskatchewan dealer for Hydro Engineering, who was using the hose for agricultural purposes when his own property was threatened by a forest fire. He quickly manufactured a coupling for the hose and connected sprinklers, thus creating the wet break prototype.

The concept, in fact, grew out of the conventional use of the company's hoses, namely the distribution of manure on farms. This type of equipment is normally used to pump manure from a farm storage facility, with the manure then injected into the farmland in a measured and environmentally sound manner using other equipment from Hydro Engineering.

"The system provides a never-ending supply of water," said Sand. "It's like a mobile water main." Up to 1,500 gallons of water a minute can be pumped through the six-inch hose. The company has developed a special pump so the system can function in fairly shallow water sources.

More information is available from Tom Huffman at Hydro Engineering, 1-800-833-5812, or Doug Sand at Sands Liquid Manure Services, 306/763-1943.

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