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Emergency response bolstered by bushfire prediction modelling tool

Australia is aiming to develop a nationally consistent bushfire modelling and prediction capability under an agreement between CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, and AFAC, the National Council for Fire and Emergency Services.

The joint effort entails the development of Spark Operational – a cutting-edge bushfire simulation tool based on CSIRO’s ‘Spark’ fire prediction platform. Fire and emergency services agencies across Australia will be able to use Spark Operational which provides bushfire prediction capabilities across borders and over different landscapes.

CSIRO’s Spark platform merges its existing knowledge of fire behaviour with state-of-the-art simulation science. The potent combination is designed 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.

AFAC’s Fire Prediction Services Group will collaborate with CSIRO to improve existing technology. Together they aim to build a national system that allows for consistent bushfire predictions that will support emergency service and response teams across borders.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall accepted that 2020 changed the game forever, and to stay abreast, the agencies were deploying new science and technology to protect firefighters and Australian communities.

Acknowledging that the innovation built on decades of expertise, he said, “Our solutions from science have protected Australians from the threat of bushfires for over 70 years, from roadside fire danger signs to advanced burn-over protection materials.”

The solution is a cutting-edge platform, based on current breakthrough technology and built on a strong foundation of research into understanding and predicting the behaviour and spread of bushfires.

Spark, he felt, was 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 front-liners. He firmly believes the advanced system will allow firefighters outthink fire, to anticipate its actions, and to get ahead of it and, eventually, to beat it.

AFAC CEO Stuart Ellis said the new technology will support fire agencies to keep communities safe, “Spark Operational will play a significant role in allowing our emergency response teams to effectively plan for and respond to fire emergencies in a variety of landscapes and climates.”

He confirmed that it had been identified as the best solution to achieve a nationally consistent system that would take Australi to the next generation of firefighting intelligence. It would ensure that the ability to protect as many lives and assets as possible across multiple scenarios, mitigating the dangers of bushfire.

Through a partnership with AFAC, 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.

CEO of Minderoo’s Flood and Fire Resilience Initiative, Adrian Turner, said the development came at a critical time. 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. The experience last summer has highlighted the need for better decision support tools to help firefighters protect people and the environment.

“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,” he opined.

The creation of a nationally consistent bushfire modelling and prediction capability was recommended by CSIRO in a report to the Commonwealth Government last year Climate and Disaster Resilience.

Phase one of the technology’s implementation commenced in January 2021 with further developments ensuring it will become fully operational over the next three years.

With each phase of its implementation, Spark Operational will be grown and adapted into a tool that all agencies nationwide can tailor to specific landscapes and bushfire behaviour, enabling them to better predict – and thereby protect – local environments.

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