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by Radhiya Fanham, Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC

Get a clear picture of immediate bushfire risk with the Australian Flammability Monitoring System.

The world’s first near real-time web application for assessing how dry vegetation is, and in turn, how flammable, can help the utility sector better understand the risk bushfires pose to their infrastructure.

Developed through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC’s Mapping bushfire hazard and impacts project, the Australian Flammability Monitoring System (AFMS) uses satellite data to collect spatial information on live moisture content and flammability, allowing users to see where there are high levels of vegetation and soil dryness – perfect conditions for a bushfire.

It displays this information on an interactive online map, making it easier and faster to access. Freely accessible, the system is already being used by fire and land managers around Australia, and would also benefit energy, water and communications utilities whose assets may be located in a bushfire-prone area.

“The displayed fuel moisture content and flammability maps have been generated using freely available satellite data,” Dr Marta Yebra, project leader from the Australian National University, said.

“If you compare the current dryness values for a location with the values of previous weeks or months, you can have a sense of how much drier the land is than it was last season, for example, and that may give you an idea of how much danger could be in your specific area.”

The first online mapping tool of its kind to be introduced in Australia, the AFMS is garnering attention and interest not just in Australia, but internationally as well. The AFMS is also being used in Europe, South Africa, Argentina, the US and China.

Emergency services and land management agencies including the New South Wales Rural FireService, ACT Parks and Conservation Service, and the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services have been using the AFMS to make informed decisions about where a fire may ignite and spread, and what areas should be prioritised when sending resources and equipment to fight fires.

Dr Marta Yebra (right) examines the bush after a prescribed burn with Dr Matt Hayne from the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC and Dr Adam Leavesley. Credit: Geoff Cary

Real-time insights from the AFMS were fed into operational decisions at the NSW Rural Fire Service during the 2019/20 bushfire season, with Dr Yebra working at their headquarters during a peak fire danger period in November 2019.

Dr Yebra has spent time with the RFS, assisting them with using the AFMS to analyse data on vegetation conditions and how these conditions might affect bushfire spread.

The data available through the system is invaluable to fire and land management agencies, explained Dr Adam Leavesley, Bushfire Research Utilisation Manager at the ACT Parks and Conservation Service.

“Fire managers across Australia need to understand when our landscape is in a position that is either not going to burn, burn in a way that will allow us to control a fire, or when conditions are so dry that if a fire starts it will be very dangerous and difficult to control,” Dr Leavesley said.

“The Australian Flammability Monitoring System gives us a really good guide across the whole country to how we expect fire to behave on any particular day. This helps agencies position resources during a bushfire, keeping our people safe, and also with prescribed burn planning, particularly in mountainous locations where flammability changes depending on which side of a mountain you are on.

“It has been an amazing partnership with the research team. It is great quality science from a team that is driven by wanting to see their work make an impact – that has been the key to getting us to this stage.”

Recognised with the Outstanding Achievement in Research Utilisation Award from the CRC in 2019, the AFMS is accessible at http://anuwald.science/afms.

You can learn more about the research behind the AFMS in the CRC’s Hazard Note 88: www.bnhcrc.com.au/hazardnotes/88.

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