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Emergency services fired up over new prediction software

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Posted May 7, 2015

A new software tool that can predict the severity and spread of destructive bushfires has been released this week by CSIRO.

Spark: a better way to predict the spread of bushfires

The software, known as ‘Spark’ will give fire-fighting agencies a more accurate view of fire behaviour, informing decisions that could minimise property damage and save lives.

Spark takes current knowledge of fire behaviour and combines it with state-of-the-art simulation science to predict the future location of bushfires and the spread of those already burning.

The framework uses geospatial data, such as vegetation types, topography and un-burnable elements such as roads and bodies of water, as well as weather data such as air temperature, humidity, wind speed and wind direction.Spark then uses this data to model the spread of a fire based on its specific location and current environmental conditions.

Dr Mahesh Prakash, one of CSIRO’s computational modelling researchers, described the software as a highly flexible simulation environment. “Spark has the potential to be used operationally for real-time fire spread modelling of bushfires,” he said.

“This information is invaluable for emergency management decision makers for predicting risk, deploying firefighting resources or planning evacuation routes.

“The next step is to work with the rural fire authorities and land management agencies to incorporate Spark into bushfire planning and management processes.”

CSIRO’s bushfire behaviour expert, Dr Andrew Sullivan said that Spark represents the state of the art in fire spread simulation. “We have had the capacity to model the spread of bushfires for more than 20 years. Spark takes that technology into the 21st century by marrying the foundation of our fire behaviour knowledge with the state of the art in simulation science,” he said.

Spark provides the opportunity to use data and modelling tools to inform emergency management processes, save lives and reduce the financial burden of disasters on the global economy.

The Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission conservatively estimated the cost of the Black Saturday disaster to be $4.4 billion. In southeast Australia the fire season is becoming longer, reducing the opportunities for hazard reduction burning.

Recent severe fires have been influenced by record hot, dry conditions and in the future, Australia is very likely to experience an increased number of days with extreme fire danger. It is crucial that communities, emergency services, health services and other authorities prepare for the increasing severity and frequency of extreme fire conditions.

Spark has been developed as an open framework for fire prediction and analysis, making it simple for fire agencies to incorporate the software into their existing systems and also more easily allow the fire science community to collaborate and keep adding new fire behaviour knowledge.

A demonstration version of Spark is available to download via the CSIRO website. Spark is being officially launched today at the Australian & New Zealand Disaster and Emergency Management Conference held on the Gold Coast.

Source: CSIRO

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