The bushfire behaviour and management team develops the science needed to keep people and property safe from bushfires in Australia. This requires an understanding of fire - what are the conditions that lead to out of control fires, how do fires respond to weather and firefighting efforts, and what can be changed in the landscape to reduce the risk of harm. As well as being an issue for public safety, bushfires have a wide range of environmental, social and economic effects, so a comprehensive approach is needed.

Our research work examines the fundamental principles of fire behaviour, and applies this knowledge to develop practical tools for use in day-to-day fire management.  We work closely with fire managers and other stakeholders to ensure that our science is targeted and brings real benefits.  We have created a number of tools for predicting behaviour of bushfires and prescribed burns, many of which have been widely adopted by fire managers in Australia.

Research activities include:

  • Examining how fires affect social and ecological values, including water supply and carbon storage;
  • Investigating how bushfires develop and move across the landscape, including ember transport;
  • Examining the relationships between weather, terrain, ecology and forest flammability;
  • Examining how fire burns through different fuel layers – from leaf litter to canopy;
  • Identifying the factors that lead to property and asset damage from major fires;
  • Developing new ways to track the progress of active fires and smoke plumes;
  • Developing the science to support effective prescribed burning;
  • Mapping the risk and frequency of fire across the landscape;
  • Providing practical advice on fire risk management; and
  • Developing tools for fire prediction.

Our research is being used to tackle some of Australia’s most difficult bushfire issues.  Control and management of large fires in Australia is challenging because of the combination of extreme weather, fire-loving Eucalyptus trees and the fact that burning embers can be carried by winds tens of kilometres ahead of a fire front.

We have developed a state of the art computer model (PHOENIX RapidFire), which can quickly simulate the spread of a bushfire and determine its likely impacts.  This model is being used by Australian fire agencies during active fires, to identify areas of highest risk and to guide the firefighting effort. It can be also used to model hypothetical fires, making it possible to create a map showing areas of highest fire risk. A fire risk map can guide fire preparation effort - by putting more effort into the areas of highest risk, communities and fire managers can make the most of limited time and resources.

Our research team also supports operational fire control by providing ongoing training for emergency services staff, ensuring that model predictions are provided in a user friendly format, and supporting integrated systems with good information flow. Having a clear understanding of the location and behaviour of a particular fire can aid decision making about firefighting, evacuation and public warnings.

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