Preparing Australia for future extreme bushfire events
For almost 70 years we have worked collaboratively in bushfire research, from understanding and modelling the impact of bushfires on the environment to post-fire assessments and improving infrastructure design. We work in partnership with all levels of government, state fire agencies, Traditional Owners, the private sector and communities.
Our scientists are developing reliable tools to predict bushfire behaviour, and advance fire spread prediction and bushfire suppression systems to support recovery and rehabilitation. We train all state fire agencies in fire behaviour and prediction, using world-class facilities and models to understand and manage fires under future climate conditions. Our research and expertise are critical to the timely identification of potential impacts and the ability to issue emergency warnings.
In 1988, we were the first agency internationally to link an increase in bushfire weather severity to climate change. Our research and practical resilience measures relating to bushfires and climate change are vital as Australia faces continued extreme fire weather into the future.
Our diverse bushfire research includes the following: full-scale house burnover experiments; personal bushfire shelter tests and advice; smoke forecasting for bushfires and prescribed burns; testing and the evaluation of fire-safe construction products and materials; and understanding the link between climate, emissions and bushfires. This work has led to improved national building standards and materials, guidelines and regulatory systems, more effective prediction tools, and an improved understanding of the links between climate variability and bushfire weather. Our post-bushfire surveys and research provide invaluable information on how fires impact buildings and communities.
Creating a climate-resistant and bushfire-ready nation
Advice to governments
Following the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season, the Australian Government called on us to help to deliver practical resilience measures in relation to bushfires and climate change. We were tasked by the Prime Minister to deliver a report to Australian governments on climate and disaster resilience, working with the Expert Advisory Panel led by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel.
Fire behaviour science
We focus on the study of the behaviour of bushfires and the development of systems to predict their spread and behaviour. We train all state agencies in fire behaviour and prediction, and have world‑class facilities and models to understand, predict, and manage fires under future climate conditions. Agencies use our suite of models to predict fire behaviour, and these have been critical to issuing timely emergency warnings.
We are working on better detection methods, enhanced fire spread simulation models and suppression effectiveness models. When these are linked into a single modelling environment (Spark), they allow agencies to prioritise efforts to suppress new and running fires according to their potential to cause loss. Spark is a state-of-the-art framework for simulating the spread of fire across the landscape and is used by fire authorities in New South Wales (NSW), South Australia, Queensland, Victoria and Tasmania. Read more at Predicting bushfire spread with next-generation modelling.
Smoke forecasting for bushfires and prescribed burns
We worked with Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, the Bureau of Meteorology (the Bureau), and the university sector to develop a tool that is being used to help manage smoke exposure from prescribed burns and bushfires. AQFx (the air quality forecasting system) is run by the Bureau and uses a fire spread model to calculate smoke emissions from ongoing fires and planned burns. Forecasts provided by AQFx in 2019–20 were used in Victoria and NSW to anticipate hazards to health, aviation and Australian Defence Force operations. A national rollout of AQFx (endorsed by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council) is being planned to ensure that advanced warnings of community exposure to smoke from vegetation fires are available for all Australians.
Understanding land management and wildlife impacts
Indigenous groups to apply traditional knowledge to bushfire management. This includes the development of protocols for Indigenous fire management partnerships through the Northern Australia Environmental Research Portal. We recognise that Indigenous cultural fire management or ‘cultural burning’ practices have been crucial to the successful management of Australian landscapes for thousands of years.