THE HELL FIGHTER
AS WILDFIRES ravaged California last August, the CZU Lightning Complex fire began to burn through Bonny Doon, turning the wooded surfers’ haven northwest of Santa Cruz into a particular shade of nightmare (pictured below).
Cal Fire crews were occupied with other blazes, unable to reach the town of 3,000 for several days. “It was a bad scene, man,” says Jeff Denholm, a Bonny Doon local who leases a fleet of fire engines to the U.S. Forest Service. Fortuitously, Denholm is also the founder and CEO of Atira Systems, maker of the next-gen, non-toxic fire suppressant Strong Water.
The gel-like substance, which clings to trees and smothers flames, is intended to be delivered via a helicopter-mounted cannon—an item in short supply as hell approached. But Denholm did have a truck rigged to spray the suppressant. Ignoring evacuation orders, he and his neighbors managed to save many homes, including his own.
The battle brought new urgency to Denholm’s work developing tactics to fight a frightening trend. “Wildfire propensity is forecast to increase tenfold in the next three decades,” says Denholm. “That’s six months of smoke a year. We can’t live that way. We need this technology.”
Denholm contends that his innovation counters these hotter, fasterburning mega-blazes better than the typical method of planes dropping red Phos-chek retardant powder ahead of a fire’s advance. Departments as close as San Bernardino County, CA, and as far away as Australia, agree and have added Strong Water to their wildfire-fighting arsenals.