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17 March 2022 News Release

[Music plays and a split circle appears and photographs of various CSIRO activities are shown in either side and then the circle morphs into the CSIRO logo]

[Image changes to show the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory, and then the image changes to show a close view of the top of a tree]

[Image changes to show Dr Andrew Sullivan talking to the camera, and text appears: Dr Andrew Sullivan, Bushfire Behaviour and Risks Team Leader]

Dr Andrew Sullivan: Bushfires are a natural part of life in Australia

[Image changes to show a view looking down on an area of bushland]

but when fire weather becomes dangerous they can threaten homes, lives, and livelihoods.

[Images move through to show an aerial view looking down on the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory, a close view of a fire burning, and footage of firefighters at a fire]

At CSIRO we’ve studied bushfire behaviour for decades to assist firefighters to better prepare for, and respond to bushfire threats.

[Images move through to show an aerial view looking down on the Laboratory, the CSIRO sign on the Laboratory, an explanatory sign about the Laboratory, and digital bushfire simulations]

With climate change increasing the bushfire risks for people and the environment, this research has never been more important but it’s also extremely difficult.

[Images move through to show footage of a fire burning, a firefighter walking through the smoke, and then a close view looking down on the Laboratory, and text appears: National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory]

Changing conditions in the field make it difficult to obtain detailed measurements and the mechanisms that drive bushfires.

[Image changes to show a view of the Laboratory]

So, we built a world class laboratory at the Black Mountain site of Australia’s National Science Agency.

[Images move through to show the Pyrotron, and then the Vertical Wind Tunnel inside the building, and text appears: The Pyrotron, Vertical Wind Tunnel]

It’s home to two unique apparatus, the Pyrotron, and the Vertical Wind Tunnel.

[Images move through of a male looking at a computer, graphs on the computer screen, the male’s hands on a computer mouse, and a side view of the male at work]

These tools allow us to investigate the effect of real world conditions on fire behaviour, from wind speed to fuels, and all the physics in between in a safe and repeatable manner.

[Image changes to show Andrew walking alongside the Pyrotron and pointing to the glass observation area and talking to the camera]

The Pyrotron is an aluminium steel fireproof combustion wind tunnel with a large glass observation area.

[Images move through of a “Bushfire Research” sign, a large fan, the glass observation area of the Pyrotron, and Andrew walking towards the Pyrotron and adjusting a lock on the side]

At one end is a large fan that provides the wind. The tunnel removes most of the turbulence so that the air that reaches the fire is consistent.

[Images move through to show a rear view of Andrew putting on a fireproof coat, and then the image changes to show Andrew talking to the camera and pointing to the fuel bed]

The fuel bed is where we conduct our experimental fires.

[Image changes to show Andrew arranging leaves and bark on the fuel bed, and the camera zooms in on his hands on the fuel bed, and then zooms out to show Andrew and a colleague touching the fuel]

We use natural bushfire fuels such as forest leaves, twigs, and bark

[Images move through to show a close view of the leaves, a hand touching a lighter to the leaves, the leaf litter beginning to catch alight, and a view looking down on the leaf litter alight]

but we can also use other fuels such as pine needles, grasses or shrubs because if we put the fuel bed as a key factor in the spread of a bushfire we know that all results must be tested in the field at the scale that the bushfires occur.

[Image changes to show Andrew pointing to the Vertical Wind Tunnel and talking to the camera]

Next to the Pyrotron we have the Vertical Wind Tunnel.

[Image changes to show a close facing view of Andrew talking to the camera]

This tunnel allows us to investigate the aerodynamic and combustion characteristics of bits of burning bark and debris called fire brands.

[Image changes to show a view of a bushfire at night, and then the image changes to show a fire brand blowing through the air]

In a real bushfire fire brands are the primary cause of spot fires

[Images move through to show a fire brand moving up the Vertical Wind Tunnel, Andrew talking to the camera, a close view of a fire brand, and then a fire brand moving along the Vertical Wind Tunnel]

The working section allows us to observe a fire brand at its terminal velocity, the speed that that fire brand rises and falls.

[Image shows a close view of hands holding a fire brand in a pair of tongs, and then letting it go in the Vertical Wind Tunnel, and the image shows the fire brand moving up the Vertical Wind Tunnel]

It’s terminal velocity will determine how high a fire brand may be lofted and how far it will travel.

[Image shows the fire brand moving in the Vertical Wind Tunnel]

As the fire brand burns it will lose mass and its terminal velocity will decrease meaning it will travel a greater distance from the original fire.

[Images move through of the fire brand moving up the Vertical Wind Tunnel, and then the image changes to show a fire brand being held in a pair of tongs, and then being let go]

However, we know that firebrand will only start a spot fire if it completes its journey while it’s still alight. Determining the maximum distance it can travel and remain alight is critical to know in how far spot fires could go during a bushfire.

[Image changes to show Andrew walking along next to the Pyrotron and talking to the camera, and then the image changes to show a close view of a burning fire brand over a gas burner

Both the Pyrotron and the Vertical Wind Tunnel gives us glimpses into the mechanisms by which one of our most dangerous natural phenomena propagates

[Images move through to show Andrew looking down, a close view of a gas burner, and then an aerial view looking down on a bushfire at night]

The research conducted in this laboratory will help firefighters better understand, predict and combat real bushfires.

[Music plays and the image changes to show the CSIRO logo on a white screen, and text appears: CSIRO, Australia’s National Science Agency]

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Constructed at a cost of $2.1 million, the new National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory is located at CSIRO Black Mountain Canberra.

The new laboratory will boost the power of CSIRO’s Pyrotron and Vertical Wind Tunnel, two unique instruments designed to allow the detailed investigation of the physics of bushfires.

CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall said as bushfires become more frequent and severe, the national science agency is investing in cutting-edge research to protect Australians and build on CSIRO’s more than seventy years of collaborative research in the field.

“Bushfires are one of Australia’s greatest challenges, and it will take the best science, facilities and partnerships across industry, government and research to help to protect our communities, front-line responders, and environment,” Dr Marshall said.

“During the Black Summer fires of 2019 and 2020, CSIRO’s scientists worked side by side with teams on the ground – as they have been for nearly every major fire event since 1950s – to better prepare for and manage bushfire seasons that are getting hotter, drier and longer.

“Challenges this complex cannot be solved by one organisation alone, and we look forward to bringing many partners together at this new National Lab – as we do at all our National Labs facilities across the country – to continue building the resilience and strength of our communities and economy.”

CSIRO bushfire behaviour expert Dr Andrew Sullivan said the Pyrotron and Vertical Wind Tunnel were purpose-built scientific apparatus that could replicate aspects of real-life bushfires under a controlled range of conditions without the risks, safety concerns and access issues that a live bushfire presented to firefighters.

“Bushfires are a natural part of life in Australia, but as we know, they can be devasting, and staying on the front foot can be difficult because there are so many factors at play,” Dr Sullivan said.

“The new laboratory will help us better understand fundamental bushfire behaviour dynamics, and the factors and interactions that influence the behaviour of bushfires, to support their management by firefighters.

“The apparatus in the new laboratory can also help researchers and fire management agencies to better understand and manage fires under future climate conditions.”

The Pyrotron is a 29-m-long combustion wind tunnel designed to investigate of the mechanisms of flame propagation in bushfire fuels such as grass, forest litter and shrubs, under a broad range of burning conditions. This includes conditions such as those of an extreme fire danger day. Factors such as wind speed, fuel type and structure, fuel load and fuel moisture content can be precisely varied or strictly controlled.

The Vertical Wind Tunnel is designed to study the combustion and aerodynamic characteristics of embers formed by burning bark and other materials. Embers ignited and blown ahead of a bushfire often start spotfires. These are the main cause of bushfires escaping containment and can threaten the lives of firefighters and members of the public and cause loss or damage to homes.

ACT Rural Fire Service Chief Officer Rohan Scott said the new laboratory would provide essential information about fire behaviour to support decision making during bushfires.

“Knowing with confidence the factors that influence fires and understanding when those factors become dangerous is critical to the safe and effective deployment of our fire crews and the safety of our communities,” Mr Scott said.

The bushfire lab is a CSIRO-owned national facility. It is available for use by arrangement by any external organisations to better understand fire behaviour and their impacts.

Get more information on the Pyrotron and VWT.

Images

CSIRO Research Team Leader for Bushfire Behaviour and Risks Dr Andrew Sullivan in front of the Pyrotron at the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at CSIRO Black Mountain, Canberra
CSIRO Bushfire Behaviour and Risks Team Leader Dr Andrew Sullivan at the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at CSIRO Black Mountain, Canberra
The National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at Black Mountain, Canberra.
The National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at Black Mountain, Canberra.
Recent burns using the Pyrotron at the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at CSIRO Black Mountain, Canberra. February 2022
Using the Pyrotron at the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at CSIRO Black Mountain, Canberra. February 2022
The National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at Black Mountain, Canberra.
The National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at Black Mountain, Canberra.
The Pyrotron in action at the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at CSIRO Black Mountain, Canberra
Plan schematic of the Pyrotron. Air flows left to right.
Plan schematic of the Pyrotron. Air flows left to right.
The Vertical Wind Tunnel (VWT) at the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at CSIRO Black Mountain, Canberra
Schematic plan of Vertical Win Tunnel (VWT)
Schematic plan of Vertical Wind Tunnel (VWT)

B-roll video

Preparing the fuel bed of the Pyrotron at the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at CSIRO Black Mountain Canberra for a burn.
Embers burn and get thrown around in the vertical wind tunnel at the CSIRO National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory.
CSIRO Bushfire Behaviour and Risks team leader Dr Andrew Sullivan preparing the fuel bed of the Pyrotron at the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at Black Mountain Canberra for a burn.
CSIRO Bushfire Behaviour and Risks team leader Dr Andrew Sullivan preparing the fuel bed of the Pyrotron at the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at Black Mountain Canberra for a burn.
Preparing the fuel bed of the Pyrotron at the National Bushfire Behaviour Research Laboratory at CSIRO Black Mountain Canberra for a burn.

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