As prolific timber suppliers in Brisbane, we keep a close eye on all information about bushfires. One of the most promising advances in fighting bushfires is the rise of predictive software for bushfires. The Rural Fire Service (RFS) in NSW is using satellites and computers to assess the possible severity of bushfires within minutes of the first ignition.
Here’s how it works: when a fire starts, the local RFS crew logs the fire and it is also detected by a Japanese satellite, 35,000 km above the earth, due to the infra-red emissions.
The information goes to RFS headquarters in Sydney, where computers use a bushfire prediction application to predict the potential path and severity of the bushfire after measuring the following factors: timber and grass in the area, what types and how they burn, moisture levels, fire history, wind speed, wind direction, terrain, temperature and humidity. Within 10 minutes, the model predicts the movement and severity for the next 24 hours.
The software is called Phoenix RapidFire. It was invented by Dr Kevin Tollhurst, who was in the Victoria Country Fire Authority (CFA) headquarters during “Black Saturday” in 2009. He worked with a programmer, Derek Chong, to “deliver useful output in a usable timeframe.” Both Mr Chong and Dr Tollhurst agreed that 10 minutes is the maximum amount of time in which a model can be useful, because fire managers otherwise “tend to make up their own mind.”
Victoria has been using the software since 2011. NSW has just begun using it. However, the software still isn’t perfect, which is why we haven’t seen it used in Queensland yet. Officials in both states are monitoring the predictions and comparing them to the results. Nobody is confident in using the current version of Phoenix RapidFire as the definitive predictive model yet but it is moving in the right direction.