What Is That Reddish ‘Goo’ Being Dropped Over Wildfires?

For the 30+ years I’ve been covering wildfires in Colorado, Arizona, and California, I’ve always been curious about the name, Phos-Chek. After all this time, I finally decided to contact the makers of the fire retardant.

Eddie Goldberg is the CEO of Perimeter Solutions, the company that manufactures the product. When I asked Goldberg about the name, Phos-Chek, he paused and said he didn’t really know where the name came from and what is specifically stands for. After a few minutes he decided that the Phos is short for Phosphate, a mineral used in different types of fire extinguishers, suppression efforts and retardants – Chek, well, Goldberg agreed, would be short for Check, as in checking (stopping) the fire. He added, “You’re the first person who has ever asked me that”.

Goldberg says he’s been with Perimeter Solutions for 20 years and Phos-Chek’s been around for more than 60 years. The Phos-Chek brand is synonymous with fire-fighting efforts around the world. Goldberg says through a well-planned logistical network the company can ship Phos-Chek almost anywhere in North American within 8 hours, and anywhere in the world with as much urgency.

Last year, Goldberg estimates the company sells an average of 50 million gallons of the retardant a year, sometimes more. So far this year, Goldberg estimates agencies in Southern California may have already used 10 million gallons. He says there used to be a definite wildfire season but now it seems to be a year-round event.

The product is manufactured at the company’s main plant in Rancho Cucamonga and because of a robust raw product supply chain employees can make the retardant concentrate pretty quickly. Goldberg says the product is shipped in concentrate form and diluted at the designated airbase before loaded onto an aircraft.

The color of Phos-Chek is important. The older product is red, the newer product is magenta (which is what is used in California). The reddish colors help fire officials from the air map out a containment strategy and better surround the flames.

Twice in my career I have been in the path of a Phos-Chek drop and each time I was drenched in magenta foam. I was also a little freaked out because I assumed the material was harmful…Goldberg quickly assures me the product is non-toxic. He says it has to be safe for plants and animals to be used on federal land. He says the ingredients are tested and approved by federal agencies. Primarily, Phos-Chek is 85% water,10% fertilizer and 5% ‘other’ ingredients including colorants, anti-corrosive additives and proprietary performance enhancers.

During the conversation I learned Phos-Chek is available to homeowners and consumers. The same exact materials used by professional wildland firefighters can be used to protect the perimeter of someone’s home and property. In fact, Goldberg told me if applied correctly, it could create a containment line around someone’s property for an entire fire season. But, he cautions, just like the big wildfires, a heavy rain could render the stuff neutral. You simply apply it at home with a consumer-grade hand sprayer.Pictures courtesy of Perimeter Solutions

Listen to my entire interview with Eddie Goldberg here:

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