Fighting bushfires goes high-tech

Fighting bushfires goes high-tech

23 September 2014

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Australia — TASMANIA’S response to the state’s deadly bushfire threat has been elevated to a new level with science and strategy leading the way.

The attack, led by the Tasmania Fire Service and involving Forestry Tasmania and Parks and Wildlife, is at the forefront of bushfire mitigation across Australia and possibly the world.

This spring will witness the most co-ordinated response to the pending bushfire season the state has seen.

At its core is powerful computer modelling, which better predicts bushfire behaviour.

The modelling allows for different landscapes, vegetations, wind speed and humidity levels to be fed into the computer.

When these scenarios become reality, firefighters are already one step ahead of nature’s fiercest element.

To make this possible, the fire service has mapped out all of Tasmania to incorporate the state’s different terrain types.

Older methods of bushfire mitigation such as burning off vegetation simply because it surrounds a vulnerable town has been replaced with a more strategic approach.

This might be the targeting of dense forest some distance from the town but which, if burnt off, reduces the risk of far-flung embers igniting property during a bushfire.

The approach is being labelled “tenure-blind” because the fire service will conduct fuel reduction burns on private property, in consultation with the owner, if it’s thought beneficial.

This is seen as necessary given nearly 45 per cent of treatable land is private.

“This brings it all together under the one umbrella. There is a huge amount of modelling and predictive work that goes on behind the scenes,” acting Northern regional chief Steven Richardson told The Examiner.

“That and some other science goes into deciding the best treatment plans to help minimise the impact on communities.”

Before the election, the Liberals promised to burn off 60,000 hectares, or 5 per cent of Tasmania’s treatable land, a year.

However, the government appears to be warming to the approach that rejects quantity in favour of quality fuel reductions.

In some cases the strategy might not call for a burn-off at all but other mitigation such as better fire trails.

In estimates, Police and Emergency Services Minister Rene Hidding lauded the program, saying the fire service was leading the world in the area.

“After the Victorian bushfires there was this sort of blanket reduction and frankly they set fire to the mallee every year in order to meet targets,” Mr Hidding said.

“The process we have got is going to be much more intellectual process than that.”

The fire service has reminded landowners that bushfire mitigation is still very much their responsibility.

“Everyone still needs to have their Bushfire Survival Plan in place, discuss it with your family, and prepare your property for the coming fire season,” Officer Richardson said.

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