No predictive bushfire modelling available for parts of Tasmania’s World Heritage Area, inquiry hears

No predictive bushfire modelling available for parts of Tasmania’s World Heritage Area, inquiry hears

06 May 2016

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Australia — There are no models available to tell how quickly fire will spread through some parts of the Tasmanian wilderness, the CSIRO has told a senate inquiry.

The state experienced one of its worst bushfire seasons over summer, with more than 100,000 hectares burnt since mid-January.

That included about 20,000 hectares in Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area, home to rare pencil and king billy pines.

There are advanced modelling systems available to show how quickly fire will spread, taking into account weather conditions, fuel and topography.

But in its submission to the senate inquiry into the response the Tasmanian fires, the CSIRO noted the lack of data available for how quickly peat, rainforest, alpine forest, alpine scrub and wet eucalypt forest burn.

The CSIRO’s Andrew Sullivan said it made predicting how a bushfire might spread difficult.

“For a number of vegetation types found in north-western Tasmania there’s actually no information about how fires spread in those fuel types,” he said.

“So what happens is that anyone who is trying to do a prediction has to utilise other fire spread models.”

Mr Sullivan said there were no plans to develop that modelling, but it was an important area of expertise.

“In Tasmania, and also on the mainland, there are some fairly high value assets surrounded by vegetation types that we don’t have an awful lot of information on their fire behaviour,” he said.

“As the climate begins to bring more frequent and possibly higher intensity fire, having good information about how fast fires are likely to spread is going to be vital in protecting those assets,” he said.

Can’t rely on planes for remote fires: CSIRO

The summer’s bushfires were fought largely from the air, partly due to the remote location of most blazes.

Remote area firefighting teams, or RATS, were also deployed, some from interstate.

Mr Sullivan said RATS would be relied on more in the future.

“Although aircraft can be very effective in knocking fires down, they’re not so effective in actually putting fires out,” he said.

“You need to have people on the ground supporting the action of the aircraft to actually put the fires out.

“As we shift towards periods of climate where we are having more lightning, dry lightning, occurring, and starting fires in those remote locations, we can’t necessarily rely on using aircraft alone to put those fires out,” he said.

In a statement, the Tasmanian Fire Service’s Damien Killalea said some vegetation types for which there was no predictive fire-behaviour modelling had caught fire.

“This last bushfire season saw a number of vegetation communities become available to burn which ordinarily would resist fire or not sustain fire under the weather conditions observed. This includes, for example, Tasmania’s temperate rainforest and alpine moorlands,” he said.

Mr Killalea said that to combat these fires the service fine-tuned other models “resulting in an adapted model providing good confidence for the observed conditions”.

Fires could have been managed more proactively: Forico

Private Tasmanian forestry company Forico used its submission to argue fire crews could have been more proactive.

In its submission, CEO Bryan Hayes complemented the Tasmanian Fire Service.

“The Tasmanian Fire Service offer a timely and well-resourced fire response for private land,” he said.

The submission went on to raise serious concerns about some aspects of fire management.

“Whilst Forico acknowledges the challenges associated with multi-land tenure fires, Forico’s experienced fire staff observed several opportunities to more proactively manage the wildfires in the first two-week period — for example, with the deployment of active back-burning and afterhours fire suppression,” he said.

“Further to the point above, Forico also observed a number of opportunities to consolidate fire boundaries that were not utilised in a timely fashion, if at all.”

Bryan Hayes declined to be interviewed.

The inquiry will report back later this month.

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