Rural Fire Service used simulation technology to help save lives in Blue Mountains inferno

Rural Fire Service used simulation technology to help save lives in Blue Mountains inferno

19 October 2013

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Australia — COMPUTER simulation technology allowing firefighters to “burn” a fire based on predicted weather conditions had saved lives during the catastrophic Blue Mountains fires.
A Google Earth-style camera attached to a waterbombing aircraft feeding 10 second videos to fire incident-controllers had also given fire incident control planners real time vision to plan ahead.

The NSW Rural Fire Service is now investigating the deployment of drones to further advance the firefighting effort.

While the bushfires have wreaked havoc across Sydney, firefighters say the number of lives and homes lost was dramatically lower than what it may have been just a few years ago.

A NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman said equipment such as the real-time modelling program, called Phoenix Rapidfire, was giving volunteers the upper-hand.

Still being trialled, the bushfire prediction system works by using unputted weather and vegetation data to show firefighters how and where a fire will burn.

Simulation runs take less than a minute with firefighters able to “burn” 200,000 hectares in four minutes.

The NSW RFS said the agency was relying both on a fire behaviour expert and Phoenix.

“Phoenix is a huge step forward for us by allowing us to plan very quickly ahead,” he said.

“A map is created which the fire behaviourist analyses before it is sent to the incident controllers to plan.

“We are also using a 360 degree specialist camera on our aircraft – similar to the Google Earth camera – which is beaming back 10 seconds videos to fire controllers to actually see what is going on the ground via a Street View-style system.”

Phoenix was developed in Victoria in 2009 and is being trialled in most States.

The spokesman said the organisation was also investigating the use of drones “by next bushfire season” pending approval from the Civil Aviation Authority (CASE).

Drones would able to film in more remote or dangerous locations, without requiring a pilot.

The technology is among an arsenal of military-level fire suppressing equipment that is being used to fight fires.

Of the 78 aircraft deployed or on stand-by, two air cranes – Gypsy Lady and Ichabod – were also involved in the firefighting effort in addition to over 300 trucks.

Other equipment engaged by volunteers include specialised brush hooks to clear fire trails through thick scrub for tankers and crew.

Firefighters are also carrying special waterfilled backpacks fitted with high-pressure pumps to spray spot fires.

Volunteers are also carrying multipurpose firefighting nozzles, called triple action directors, to create water curtains or jets.

The NSW RFS has attributed to social media for helping prevent loss of life and property, with the real-time sharing of information helping residents respond to an unfolding situation.

Together with 1500 firefighters on the ground, the equipment was helping mitigate the disaster, the spokesman said.

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