Nevada City mayor hosts ‘sound extinguisher’ demo as wildfire tool (VIDEO) | TheUnion.com
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Nevada City mayor hosts ‘sound extinguisher’ demo as wildfire tool (VIDEO)

Nevada City Mayor Reinette Senum is well-known for her propensity for thinking outside the box.

Last spring, she dreamed up a GoatFundMe that gained her international attention — a plan to use grazing goats to mitigate the fire hazard posed by overgrown public spaces within Nevada City.

This week, she brought two engineers to town who are in the very early stages of using low-frequency sound waves to extinguish fires.

Seth Robertson and Viet Tran, who graduated from George Mason University just a few short years ago, showed off a “sound extinguisher” at Nevada City’s City Hall Thursday evening, with a repeat performance Friday at noon.

As a group of onlookers gathered around, the engineers lit a pan of rubbing alcohol on fire and then pointed their extinguisher at the blaze, and the blaze went out as a low bass boom sounded.

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“That’s crazy!” one onlooker exclaimed.

Originally, Robertson and Tran told PhysicsWorld magazine, they envisaged their device as ideal for use on small fires in the home — for example mounted over a stove top — but then started investigating the possibility of applying the principle to broader applications.

Senum invited the team to Nevada City to “hear our concerns and needs, and then assess our area and consider if a larger scaled system can be engineered to defend our forest, critical infrastructure, homes, and businesses … by air or land,” she said.

During a PowerPoint presentation after the demo, Robertson said that the idea of using sound waves to extinguish a fire is nothing new — but no one had tried to develop a working fire extinguisher using sound waves before.

“We took an Edison approach,” he said. “You’re never going to know what you can do until you try. … Every time a test would fail, we’d learn something new.”

The two eventually partnered with Arsac Technologies, which has acquired development and marketing rights to their invention.

The three men discussed some of the ways the technology could be used to fight wildfires, including drones or mounted in an array on top of a fire truck.

Robertson said sound wave technology could be better suited to fighting fires than water drops from air tankers, which have to reload.

Senum and team members met with fire chiefs and the city engineer, trying to identify areas of high fire danger and see where buffers could be used, she said.

“The objective (would be) to create a wall of frequency that would snuff out embers,” Senum said, holding out the possibility of a trial run this winter.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email lizk@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.


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