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Phoenix software to assist in bushfire modelling

A computer program (called Phoenix) that predicts the movement of bushfires is set to help Australian fire agencies in this an El Nino year. Fire agencies will need all the help they can get to warn communities and prepare firefighting strategies.

The research program was headed up by Dr Kevin Tolhurst with his team from Melbourne University and has taken years of hard work, testing and refining.

In the past, fire behaviour analysts (FBANs) had to manually plot the trajectory of a new fire. Andy Ackland is one of the senior FBANs at Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning in Victoria, and explained how time-consuming the old method was.

A screenshot of Phoenix in action. As well as being used in the field during fires, the simulator can be used to forecast where trouble areas might crop up.

A screenshot of Phoenix in action. As well as being used in the field during fires, the simulator can be used to forecast where trouble areas might crop up.

“Manual predictions can take 30 minutes to an hour for a single fire, yet Phoenix can cover 20 predictions in minutes,” Mr Ackland said. “The older methods of using spreadsheets and maps are good, and are part of our base training, but when you have lots of fires coming through it’s very hard to stay on top of the predictions for so many different fires.”

The simulator has been trailed against known large fires from the past and found to be very accurate. One of the key features of Phoenix is its ability to predict ember attack. Embers can start fires many kilometres from the fire front even with a moderate wind.

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Asia Pacific Fire, Editor