MORAGA -- A downside to the incredible amount of rain from the winter storms -- and beautiful green growth that came after -- is the increased quantity of fuels for wildfires.
Rising Bay Area temperatures are now drying out all the extra vegetation, putting many parts of California at higher wildfire risk.
2017 was a particularly bad year for the Wine Country wildfires. The smoke spreading across the Bay Area sparked an idea for a Campolindo High School senior to try to do something to help.
"Everyone's lives were interrupted, lives were lost," said Vasya Tremsin, who co-founded Torch Sensors and is the company's COO. "Billions of dollars in damages, etc. So I thought to myself, 'Why is there a smoke alarm indoors that exists and is ubiquitous all around the world, but there is no outdoor smoke alarm for an outdoor fire sensor at all?'"
Tremsin took that idea and made it a reality with a science fair project at Campolindo. It was such a success that he took it all the way to the international level, winning the top honor at the competition.
"It is just something that came from within him," said Campolindo High School science teacher Roxanna Jackman.
Jackman was Tremsin's science teacher. It was in her classroom where the young student was inspired to make something to impact his own community.
"The project that he created has some potential. And even at the time, he was going all the way to the top, because he was helping fight fires in California, and we were all like staying inside and not breathing the air because it was so smoky. So it was so relevant," said Jackman.
Now 23 years old and a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Tremsin has made the move from student to entrepreneur. The science fair project from 2018 is now a fully developed tool to help in California's wildfire fight.
"Actually taking that idea that I first developed while being at this school, and now it is a big company and actually selling the product feels pretty crazy to me," explained Tremsin. "Especially a product [that] can impact people directly and can save lives and can save billions of dollars for people all over the US and the world and any fire-risk areas."
Torch Sensors use AI technology to detect even small flare ups. Sensors can be placed within 10 acres of each other.
"It is solar powered with a battery inside, and it just actively detects fires 24/7 after that," said Tremsin. " So basically any fire detection that is happening on the sensor arrives straight to your app on your phone just seconds after it detects it."
It warns everyone within the app's network of a possible fire hazard to get that fire out before it gets out of control. Tremsin has big plans for his product this year.
"We are making the technology as reliable as possible," said Tremsin. "We are in the final stages of manufacturing and sending it out to all the people who are pre-ordering and that will order in the future. So this summer, we are doing a lot of pilot tests with big stakeholder customers such as insurance companies, such as home security companies, vineyards around California and Napa Valley, San Diego, Colorado, etc. So really showcasing this product to these people and running testing with big fires with the customers actually there."
All of this should have Torch Sensors ready to protect Bay Area homes for the 2024 fire season. This one idea could be one solution in combating the state's wildfires.
Torch Sensors are still in the testing with pre-orders already available. Tremsin's team says they participated in a number of prescribed burns supervised by Bay Area and state fire officials over a two-year period to inform and enhance sensor performance and improve on false positives.
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