Fighting fire, the green way: Minden company develops eco-friendly fire retardant

Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealA P2 drops retardant at the Minden-Tahoe Airport during a test run.

Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealA P2 drops retardant at the Minden-Tahoe Airport during a test run.

MINDEN - Last week, a Lockheed P-2 fire bomber dropped a dense cloud of slurry-like substance along the east side of the Minden-Tahoe Airport.

But there was no fire. The drop was a test run for a new product that developers hope will become the gold, or green, standard of fire retardant.

"Several of us got together, but it was really a fellow with the forest service who introduced this material called versanite," said Minden resident and former commercial pilot John Marsalis. "When you put binder and water with it, it's a great fire suppressant. And after the fire goes away, it enriches the ground for new growth. They actually use it on golf courses because it holds water."

Marsalis is one of seven partners of Versa Terra International, a small Minden firm that over the last four years has developed and patented two types of eco-friendly fire retardant using versanite.

"It comes down as a watery slurry, and after the fire is out, this slurry coats everything and hardens," Marsalis explained. "When the fire comes back, there is a barrier there to fight the fire. It's nontoxic and rejuvenates the soil."

The company currently is testing the product in hopes of winning the approval of the U.S. Forest Service. Partners also have made promotional videos of the retardant being tested in the field.

In more than one instance, they set controlled fires, fueled by pine needles and cheat grass, and recorded the progression of flames and eventual extinction when hitting areas treated with versanite.

In another test captured on tape, two piles of dead leaves were ignited with a blowtorch. The untreated pile was consumed by flames within three minutes. The pile treated with versanite took more than five minutes to burn out.

"You can definitely spread this stuff on a house," said VTI Director Eugene Stoneman, a retired firefighter. "To get the stuff off, all you need is a pressure washer."

While the retardant may have several applications, Stoneman hopes the forest service will test it in a wildfire situation.

"This fire season, we'd like the forest service to come in, load up a tanker and use it on a real fire," he said. "Because we know what it can do."

Ideally, the company envisions a large manufacturing operation based somewhere in the Valley.

"We're a Nevada firm and would be hiring Nevada people," Marsalis said. "This stuff could be used all over the world."

The P-2 aircraft used belonged to Minden Air Corp., another airport-based business that trains air-tanker pilots and contracts its services around the country. The test drop coincided with Minden Air Corp.'s annual training program in preparation for the upcoming fire season.

"We're an innovative company, and this (VTI) seems to fit well," said Tim Christy, director of flight operations. "We're all for trying to assist other people in moving this country, and county, forward by developing business."

Although their product development is promising, partners of Versa Terra International know they have plenty of work cut out for them.

"Nothing ventured, nothing gained," Stoneman said.

For more information, call Versa Terra International CEO Adrian Eriksen at 925-413-4812.

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