Australian scientists today revealed their bushfire modelling and prediction program to be used by fire and emergency services agencies across the country starting next summer.

Developed by the CSIRO in response to the government’s request for ways to improve climate and disaster “resilience” following the Black Summer bushfires a year ago, the tool uses weather, location, terrain and vegetation data to predict bushfires.

Dangerous bushfire weather has approximately doubled as predicted over the past decade, according to the CSIRO, making fire predictions and subsequent strategic and tactical decisions more challenging for fire fighting agencies.

Emergency agencies will be able to test the new approach during this next fire season.

Spark Operational

Through a partnership with AFAC, the National Council for Fire and Emergency Services, the CSIRO’s “Spark” fire prediction program will now be upgraded over three years into a nationally consistent bushfire modelling and prediction capability – one of the recommendations of the science agency’s report on Climate and Disaster Resilience released in June.

Known as “Spark Operational”, the nationwide rollout will allow agencies to tailor predictions to specific landscapes and bushfire behaviour, the CSIRO says, enabling them to better predict – and thereby protect – local environments.

The Spark platform. Source: CSIRO.

The software will initially be used alongside the current “Phoenix RapidFire” bushfire simulator developed by the University of Melbourne, the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre and Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

But Spark Operational looks set to eventually replace it because it provides a more consistent approach and more advanced features like models to improve decisions on fuel reduction burning locations, emergency warnings, and fire-based risks of climate change.

“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,” said CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshal.

“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.” 

AFAC CEO Stuart Ellis said Spark Operational will give emergency agencies and response teams an important new way to plan for and respond to fires.

“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.” 

Philanthropic organisation the Minderoo Foundation is funding Spark Operational as part of its Fire Shield Mission, which aims to detect and extinguish dangerous fires within an hour by 2025.

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