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Tooele teen makes potential breakthrough in fighting wildfires

TOOELE COUNTY – A Tooele County teen is honored by the state for his discovery that could have a big impact on how crews handle wildfires in the future.

The idea came to Gavin Norman while he was working on his science project for Clarke N. Johnson Junior High School.  He noticed aircraft dropping fire retardant leave behind a product that isn’t harmful, but, quite messy.  Norman says, “Also, they have to land to [refill]. So, I thought I could fix that.”

He was hoping to find a cleaner material that could knock the flames down.  Then, it hit him that the product already exists.  “I just thought, ‘They use CO2 to put out fires in fire extinguishers.  So, why not compress it and turn it into dry ice and, somehow, have the dry ice put out the fires?’” Norman says.

He tried using a large block of dry ice, but, it didn’t effectively dissipate into CO2 gas quickly enough.  He then broke the dry ice into powder.  Norman says, “It would definitely turn to CO2 gas a lot faster than a huge chunk.  So, I decided to crush it up and use it to put out the fire, and that worked really, really good.”

Norman says fires emit CO2, so, one day, they could equip an aircraft with devices to capture the gas.  “Then, they have these dry ice machines that you could buy and you could put the CO2 through the machine,” he says.

Norman took top honors in Utah in the 10th annual Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, which is a nationwide competition for students between the fifth and eighth grades.