Firefighters fan flames to better understand grass flare ups

Firefighters fan flames to better understand grass flare ups

28 April 2015

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Australia– Smoke from grass fires near Toowoomba has hung over the region this week, but rather than fighting the fires, crews have been studying them.
“It is all part of a national project in collaboration with the CSIRO,” said Andrew Sturgess, a fire behaviour analyst with the Queensland Fire and Emergency Service (QFES).

“We are looking at how fires behave with different percentage of curing.”

Curing is the ratio of live to dead material in the grassland.

“We divided the paddock into different plots for experimental burns,” Mr Sturgess said.

“We treated some plots with herbicide so all the material was dead. They are 100 per cent cured.

“Then we have some other plots burned under the same time and conditions with a natural curing rate, around 50 or 60 per cent of dead material.”

Mr Sturgess says researchers noticed unusual behaviour from the Toowoomba fires.

“The fires burned under lower curing values than was generally accepted in the fire behaviour world,” he said.

“The grass we saw [in Toowoomba] this week was 30 or 40 per cent cured. Our traditional fire behaviour models might say we get very limited [fire] spread in that. We saw that we did get spread. So we’ll immediately adopt that into our thinking.

Mr Sturgess says the findings will help communities gain a better understanding of how grass fires can spread.

“The danger with grass fires is that they move rapidly and if we keep finding grass fires are moving faster under lower curing values it will change the way we attack them,” he said.

Fire authorities plan to keep up the studies of fire behaviour.

“It will never be a case of where we hang up our hats and say ‘yep, we’re all across fire behaviour’,” Mr Sturgess said.

“It’s ongoing.”

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