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Predicting fire behaviour
As a fire develops, CFA aims to provide the best possible information to communities about the potential impact it may have on them. To achieve this, we need to predict what a fire might do.
By Tim McKern
For many years, fire predictions used prediction models and sketching lines onto paper-based maps. This approach, combined with local knowledge, fireground experience and observations of the fire activity, can be really effective, particularly in the early stages of a fire.
More recently, thanks to fire behaviour research and the development of computer-based fire simulators, we can run a large number of fire simulations and predictions with much greater detail.
Whether we do manual or computer fire modelling, the information needed is largely the same:
• The ignition location of the fire
• The type of fuel the fire is burning
• The current and future weather
• The topography the fire is travelling over.
As with all predictions, the quality of the prediction will be greatly affected by the accuracy of the input information, and predictions always need to be reviewed. This means fire behaviour analysts need good situation reports from people on the fireground. Confirming the current fire location and updating VicFire is vital to the accuracy of predictions, as is information about the current fire behaviour, direction the fire is travelling and any spotting that’s occurring.
Fire predictions are not only used in response to a fire – planning and preparedness products are also produced to help decision-makers ensure prevention works are carried out in particular areas. For preparedness products, computer simulations model thousands of firestart locations across the state so that we can assess how these fires might spread and impact assets and communities. Decision-makers can then determine the fire risk and the potential damage the fires could do across the state over several days.
Over the summer, fire behaviour analysts are on standby every day at the State Control Centre. They provide briefings about the potential fire threat across the state over the next few days. From a response perspective, analysts may run predictive modelling on new fire starts that have the potential to spread. The predictions usually show how they are likely to spread for at least the next six hours, but they can predict the behaviour over several days.
Fire behaviour analysts may also work as part of an incident management team, where they can advise the Operations and Planning sections about the current and future fire behaviour.
Generally, predictions don’t show the impact of fire suppression, so if suppression is effective the actual fire spread may be significantly less than that predicted.