Teen overcomes tragedy to create fire suppression extinguisher to combat wildfires
[Dec 3, 2021: Giovanni Albanese Jr.]
An Indian American teen in the San Francisco Bay Area has parlayed the tragedy of a 2018 wildfire to hopefully prevent the spread of future disasters.
Arul Mathur, a rising senior at Monte Vista High School in Danville, California, says he has the solution to help combat California wildfires, allowing regular citizens to take fire protection into their own hands.
Inspired by the 2018 Camp Fire, Mathur says he developed FACE, or Fire Activated Canister Extinguisher. FACE is an autonomous fire suppression device that releases retardant when it detects fire.
When placed in strategic locations, FACE can prevent homes from burning down, according to the teen.
Mathur launched a Kickstarter campaign to make FACE available to the public for the impending fire season. He says all the revenue generated will be donated to install FACE devices in fire-prone areas that need them the most.
F.A.C.E. is designed to put out fires automatically when it detects extreme heat.
Mathur lived in New Jersey for the first eight years of his life, where wildfires are essentially unheard of.
After moving to California in 2012, he said he began to hear about the destruction that wildfires caused, on TV and overhearing conversations with his parents for the first time, seemingly every year.
“However, I still thought that the problem was distant, and would never affect me or my family personally,” he said. “As I grew older, I began to understand the severity of the wildfire problem in California and just how damaging these fires were to people in my community. I heard about the hundreds of thousands of people who evacuated their homes every year to flee from wildfires, but I still never thought that I could be one of those people,” he said.
Finally, in the summer of 2019, a wildfire spread so fast, coming from 10 miles away, it threatened to force his family to evacuate their home.
“Thankfully, due to the bravery and diligence of my local fire department, the fire was contained and our house was saved. However, other people weren't so lucky. In October 2019 alone, more than 200,000 Californians were forced to evacuate from their homes,” he noted.
“At that moment, it became personal. I knew that I needed to do something about it,” he went on. “I questioned, ‘How could a 5-acre fire grow into 50,000, in just a few months, destroying hundreds of homes?’ ‘How was it that I was so close to becoming part of that statistic?’
“Searching for answers, I began to research why wildfires reached the size they did,” he added. “One of the key problems I found was that by the time firefighters are alerted of a wildfire and take action, the fire has already grown out of control,” he explained.
That’s when he first began designing and engineering FACE. Mathur said he reasoned that by owning self-activating fire suppression, individuals no longer had to be reliant on the fire department to save their homes.
“Firefighters could focus on containing the fire, while we, as residents, could control the fate of our property,” he asserted to India-West.
Now, he says, after two years of design changes, rigorous development and targeted testing, FACE is ready to protect you starting this fire season.
At time of press, the Kickstarter campaign for FACE had raised nearly $10,000, double of the $5,000 goal when launching the campaign July 1.
Mathur, who in 2019 gave a TEDx Talk about the benefits of FACE, said in the Kickstarter that, “I believe that if all Californians work together to make FACE part of their fire prevention arsenal, we can help stop the wildfire crisis – which is only going to worsen with climate change and droughts.”
The campaign notes that over the past three years, there have been almost 7,500,000 acres of wildfire in California alone, destroying nearly 50,000 structures. What's even worse is that 2021 is projected to be one of the worst wildfire seasons in history, it said.
FACE can help stop a brush fire that starts from a cigarette from growing into 50,000 acres, as well as help save a home. The heat-activated fire suppression technology in FACE will help snuff out fires before they consume your home, it added.
FACE was designed with the help of industry professionals across multiple fields, ranging from mechanical and chemical engineers to fabrication specialists.
Every single iteration of FACE has been thoroughly scrutinized by experts in the field, the campaign said.
“I'm confident that the patent-pending, thoroughly-prototyped device that FACE has become today, coupled with your support, will ensure that you get a great, functional product that you can trust to protect your home,” Mathur wrote in the campaign.
FACE is designed to put out fires automatically when it detects extreme heat. When it’s exposed to fire, the glycerin-bulb sprinkler head attached to FACE activates, dispersing fire retardant over a 4-to-5-foot radius with 360-degree coverage, according to the Kickstarter page.
Unlike a traditional fire sprinkler, FACE requires no connection to a water supply, and unlike a traditional fire extinguisher, requires no manual intervention, it said.
Additionally, FACE has a mounting bracket that allows it to be mounted in a variety of areas with high risk. If FACE is placed every 10-12 feet around a property, it can create a fire suppressing wall that can help stop fires from advancing, the campaign noted.
The ultimate goal, Mathur says, is to bring FACE into the hands of everyone who lives in fire-prone areas so that they can protect themselves and their properties.
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