Australia’s national science agency CSIRO has partnered with AFAC, the National Council for Fire and Emergency Services to develop a bushfire modelling and prediction tool that will significantly improve emergency response efforts nationwide.

AFAC’s Fire Prediction Services Group will work with CSIRO to build a national system that allows for consistent bushfire predictions to support emergency service and response teams across borders while also enabling hazard planning for the future.

CSIRO, in a report to the Commonwealth Government last year, had recommended the creation of a nationally consistent bushfire modelling and prediction capability.

Based on CSIRO’s ‘Spark’ fire prediction platform, the cutting-edge bushfire simulation tool, Spark Operational will open up bushfire prediction opportunities across borders and over different landscapes, enabling fire and emergency services agencies across Australia to anticipate fires, plan their response, improve decision-making, mitigate risks, and limit the devastation while keeping both firefighters and communities safe.

CSIRO’s Spark platform combines current fire behaviour knowledge with state-of-the-art simulation science to produce predictions, statistics and visualisations of bushfire spread, while simulating hours of fire spread across a landscape in a matter of seconds.

The implementation of the technology began in January 2021, and the tool will be fully operational over the next three years. All agencies nationwide will be able to tailor the tool to specific landscapes and bushfire behaviour, enabling them to better predict and protect local environments.

“Our solutions from science have protected Australians from the threat of bushfires for over 70 years, from roadside fire danger signs to advanced burnover protection materials,” CSIRO chief executive Dr Larry Marshall said.

"But 2020 changed the game forever. So, we have changed our game too, by unleashing new science and technology to protect our firefighters and Australian communities.

“We believe this advanced system will help firefighters outthink fire, to anticipate its actions, and to get ahead of it, so they can beat it.

"Spark is a great example of combining environmental, digital and materials science and listening to Australia’s front-line responders to deliver a real-world solution that works for them. Spark is a cutting-edge platform, based on today’s breakthrough technology but built on a strong foundation of research into understanding and predicting the behaviour and spread of bushfires,” Dr Marshall added.

Observing that the new technology will support fire agencies to keep communities safe, AFAC CEO Stuart Ellis said, “Spark Operational will play a significant role in allowing our emergency response teams to effectively plan for and respond to fire emergencies in a variety of landscapes and climates.”

“It was identified as the best solution to use to help achieve a nationally consistent system that will take the nation to the next generation of firefighting intelligence, and ensure we are protecting as many lives and assets as possible across multiple scenarios, mitigating the dangers of bushfire,” he added.

Through a partnership with AFAC, Minderoo Foundation is supporting the development of Spark Operational as part of its Fire Shield Mission, which aims to detect and extinguish dangerous fires within an hour by 2025.

Adrian Turner, CEO of Minderoo’s Flood and Fire Resilience Initiative, said the development came at a critical time.

“The Black Summer Bushfires burned with devastating impact in extremely dry fuels and at a scale that is rarely seen, driving extreme fire behaviour, which meant that the modelling was not able to accurately predict spread.

“The experience last summer has highlighted the need for better decision support tools to help firefighters protect people and the environment.

“Fire services will be able to test this tool during this next fire season, and this pilot project is a critical step towards better supporting firefighter decisions across a full range of fuel types to inform the earlier detection of fires in the future.”

More about Spark Operational

For longer term hazard planning, fire services will be able to use Spark Operational to support decisions about where to conduct fuel reduction burning in order to gain the most protection for communities. It can also be combined with climate and vegetation models to estimate fire-based risks in future as a result of climate change.

In situations where a fire is an immediate risk, Spark Operational will improve the ability of emergency services to quickly assess vulnerabilities on particular days across the whole landscape. When integrated with the latest meteorological information, as well as land slope, vegetation and other landscape information, Spark Operational can help inform the positioning of firefighting resources and make data-driven decisions to keep communities safe.

The fully operational version of Spark Operational will also assist fire agencies to generate more detailed emergency warnings to communities.