CSIRO working on national bushfire-prediction tool

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday February 4, 2021


The CSIRO and the National Council for Fire and Emergency Services (AFAC) have partnered to develop a bushfire modelling and prediction capability that will support emergency service and response teams across the country.

The simulation tool, named Spark Operational, will be based on the CSIRO’s existing fire-prediction platform, the organisation said on Thursday.

“CSIRO’s Spark platform combines current fire-behaviour knowledge with state-of-the-art simulation science to produce predictions, statistics and visualisations of bushfire spread, as well as simulating hours of fire spread across a landscape in a matter of seconds,” it said.

AFAC’s Fire Prediction Services Group and the CSIRO will improve the existing technology and build a national system that will enable agencies to tailor to specific landscapes and bushfire behaviour.

Some of the technology’s uses could include:

  • Supporting decisions about where to conduct fuel reduction burning in order to gain the most protection for communities,
  • Estimating fire-based risks in future as a result of climate change,
  • Informing the positioning of firefighting resources where a fire is an immediate risk,
  • Helping fire agencies generate more detailed emergency warnings to communities.

CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said that while the organisation’s solutions have protected Australians from the threat of bushfires for more than 70 years, 2020 “changed the game forever”.

“So, we have changed our game too, by unleashing new science and technology to protect our firefighters and Australian communities,” he said.

“We believe this advanced system will help firefighters outthink fire, to anticipate its actions, and to get ahead of it, so they can beat it. Spark is a great example of combining environmental, digital and materials science and listening to Australia’s front-line responders to deliver a real-world solution that works for them.”

Spark Operational. Source: CSIRO

The technology is expected to become fully operational over the next three years. Phase one of its implementation began last month.

Mining billionaire Twiggy Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation is supporting the development of Spark Operational as part of its Fire Shield Mission, which aims to detect and extinguish dangerous fires within an hour by 2025.

Minderoo Flood and Fire Resilience Initiative CEO Adrian Turner said last summer’s bushfires highlighted the need for better decision support tools to help firefighters protect people and the environment.

“The Black Summer Bushfires burned with devastating impact, in extremely dry fuels and at a scale that is rarely seen, driving extreme fire behaviour, which meant that the modelling was not able to accurately predict spread,” he said.

“Fire services will be able to test this tool during this next fire season, and this pilot project is a critical step towards better supporting firefighter decisions across a full range of fuel types to inform the earlier detection of fires in the future.”

The CSIRO recommended the development of a nationally consistent bushfire modelling and prediction capability in a report on Climate and Disaster Resilience last year.

Read more: The Briefing: Bushfire Royal Commission emphatically warns of global warming, stops short of recommending emissions reduction


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