We evaluated various bushfire spread models to develop a practical guide for predicting the rate of fire spread in different Australian vegetation types under different conditions.

The challenge

A guide to predicting the path and spread of bushfires

Burning bushland in Western Australia.

Predicting the path and speed of a bushfire is critical to public safety. Successful fire suppression strategies, reliable community warnings and effective evacuation planning all hinge on the precision and timeliness of predictions. 

A number of models for predicting the rate of fire spread in various Australian vegetation types have been developed over the past 60 years and have redefined contemporary approaches to fire and incident management.  

Different models work in different conditions, and knowing which one to apply is not always straightforward.  A range of factors, such as weather, fuel and topographic information, as well as the experience and capability of end users, contribute to the quality and adequacy of predictions.

Our response

Evaluating fire spread models

Researchers from CSIRO and the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) have conducted a comprehensive analysis of the different fire spread models. Their aim was to determine which models could be applied under different conditions for operational use in prescribed burning and wildfire suppression in different Australian vegetation types - specifically grasslands, shrublands, both dry and wet eucalypt forests, and in conifer plantation fuel types.

The results

Practical reference guide for different bushfire conditions

The CSIRO and AFAC analysis has been synthesised into a a new book, A Guide to Rate of Fire Spread Models for Australian Vegetation. This new reference will help users select models and formulate predictions for the best outcomes in different bushfire conditions.

This publication consolidates, for the first time, all published Australian models into one resource guide, together with a comprehensive analysis of their potential applications, benefits and limitations. It evaluates application of the models in different vegetation types and burning conditions, and provides detailed performance appraisals.

In the book, the authors examine the three different eras of bushfire rate of spread modelling breakthroughs, including the initial breakthrough by Australia’s first fire researcher, Alan G McArthur, over a twenty year period from the 1950s, through to the preliminary industry-research partnerships era spanning from 1970 to 2002 to the present comprehensive research and industry collaboration era

Researchers carefully examined the relationship between fire behaviour and environmental conditions and produced different tools to help firefighters and other practitioners to effectively predict, control and fight fires.

While the authors acknowledge that predicting fires is not an exact science, they believe that the combination of the models and guides and the operational experience of the fire practitioner will assist in determining the best tool to use in Australian conditions.

Recommendations are made about which models should underpin best practices for operational and scientific predictions of the rate of fire spread in the near term and those that should now be discounted, along with the reasons why.

A Guide to Rate of Fire Spread Models for Australian Vegetation was written by scientists from CSIRO, the University of Alberta Canada and the Department of Parks and Wildlife WA and published in collaboration with AFAC.

Copies of the book are available by contacting http://www.afac.com.au/ .

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