Men's Journal

THE HELL FIGHTER

Jeff Denholm

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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.

 ??  ?? When not fighting the wildfire problem, Denholm is an avid big-wave surfer, despite losing an arm in a commercial fishing accident.
When not fighting the wildfire problem, Denholm is an avid big-wave surfer, despite losing an arm in a commercial fishing accident.
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