High Schooler’s Invention Can Stop Fires Before They Spread
By Brad Kava
As the thick of the fire season approaches, Santa Cruzans may want to protect themselves with an amazing invention created by a 17-year-old high school student.
Arul Mathur, who lives in Danville, but has been studying online with Soquel’s Merit Academy, has created something he calls F.A.C.E., or Fire Activated Cannister Extinguisher. You put them around your house and when triggered by high temperatures, they shoot out a fire retardant in an aerosol spray.
His tests showed that the cannisters can douse flames in a four to five foot radius and he suggests placing the devices every 10 to 12 feet around a house can create a fire prevention barrier. He’s worked on the invention for two years after moving from New Jersey and seeing California’s devastating fires, including one that came so close to his family home, they were packed up and ready to evacuate, but were saved by brave firefighters.
“I didn’t think this was a problem that could ever directly affect me,” he said. “But then I realized this is a problem that needs to be solved.”
His first thought was to create units that could be placed on PG&E poles, since they were often the cause of blazes.
Then, he thought it would be better for homeowners to be able to protect their homes and let firefighters work on the fires, without having to focus so much on individual homes. The device is triggered at 155 degrees Fahrenheit, a temperature that he says is well before the flashpoint of wood and would protect it.
You can see video of his creative process here: https://www.facefires.com/about-us
“The Paradise Fire was very big,” he said. “It’s unclear whether FACE devices would have saved those homes. It would have a good chance of slowing the spread and it would have made homes more resistant to burning.”
He hopes his invention will allow homeowners to feel safe evacuating, rather than risking their lives to save their homes.
He says the device has worked in all of his tests, but because of legal liability he can’t give 100 percent assurance.
So far, he’s achieved financial success with a kickstarter campaign (https://www.facefires.com/about-us) that raised more than double the $5000 he was seeking and ends July 31. He sells the units for $99 each with price cuts for buying in volume. Twenty of them would cost $1,700; seven would be $639.
No surprise that Mather’s parents are in tech and encouraged him in his entrepreneurial ideas.
His teacher at Merit, Susan Tatsui-D’Arcy (who was California’s Mother of the Year in 2019), describes him as “incredibly focused and driven—I guess that’s what happens when the planet warms up, you realize your home can’t protect you from wildfires and there aren’t enough firefighters (or money) available to protect everyone’s homes.”
Tatsui-D’Arcy has been working with Mather since he was in eighth grade and his parents found her program on Google. She has other successful students including one who has created a supply chain relief system to get products to people during things like the pandemic, another who is getting toxins out of water from fracked wells and one who is using mushrooms as pesticides.
She will be hosting a TedX seminar with these students at the Rio Theatre in November.