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Drone footage turns grassfire modelling on head
As Victoria moves into a potential grassfire season, newly released aerial footage taken from unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) gives insight into groundbreaking findings from CFA and CSIRO which prove that fire moves much faster than previously thought in partially cured grassland. Watch the footage here.
The aerial footage, taken over three years but packaged up recently for CFA by Polygraph Productions, captures experimental burns carried out in three states: world-leading research conducted on a national level.
Since 2013 CFA has led a series of experimental burns in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. Watch footage from Ballarat 2014 here and scroll down for two other videos.
CFA and CSIRO were looking to investigate long-standing assumptions about the rate of fire spread in grasslands; data used to help to inform emergency response strategies and predictions.
“The current fire spread models used by fire services to our knowledge have never been empirically tested,” said CFA researcher and project manager Rachel Bessell.
“But the feedback from firefighters is that – earlier on in the season or where the grass is still partly green – fires are moving faster than what the models are telling them.
“We conducted burns in grass that was still partly green, as you would see early on in the season. What we found is that there is a faster rate of spread in these grassfires than what the models predict.”
Rachel and the Research and Innovation team, who have been conducting the project on a national basis through the National Emergency Management Project, said this kind of research had not yet been done anywhere internationally.
“Our findings have been peer reviewed and published in International Journal of Wildland Fire - the world’s leading academic journal for fire research , so it is a significant achievement” she said.
To set up the experiments, the team pre-treated selected plots of grass with herbicide so partially and fully cured grass could be tested side by side under identical weather conditions.
From their earlier experiments in Victoria, the team had already put together a graph showing fire spread rates under different curing conditions – but still needed to validate those findings outside Victoria.
“As we went up and down the east coast, the experiment results fit the curing curve we derived from the Victorian results.” said Rachel, who described the experiments as “scientifically rigorous.”
The footage may also provide a valuable training resource for CFA members looking to improve their knowledge of grassfire behaviour.
“The footage lets you observe the different fire behaviour characteristics between fully cured and partially cured grasslands, such as rate of spread, flame depth, plume behaviour and head fire characteristics” said Rachel.
Far from being solely the work CFA or the CSIRO, the research program has involved extensive collaboration with various fire agencies, including New Zealand researchers who made the trip over to observe the research taking place.
The most immediate people to make use of the research is Fire Behaviour Analysts, specially-trained personnel who work from incident management centres to generate modelling predictions for hypothetical or actual fires.
More accurate predictions about how fires move will support on-the-ground operations and feed into more accurate public information and warnings.
Down the track, the new data will almost certainly influence the way national Fire Danger Ratings are calculated – Fire Danger Ratings being the key tool to support community decision-making around preparing for fire.
Watch more videos or find out about becoming a grassland curing observer:
Wangaratta grassland burn (2013)
Braidwood grassland burns (2015)