The Australian Flammability Monitoring System provides a clear picture of vegetation and soil dryness across the Australian landscape, assisting fire and land managers with their operational decisions.
Fire and land managers are now benefiting from the world’s first near-real-time web application that uses satellite data to provide a clear picture of live fuel moisture and soil moisture content at a continental scale, improving the understanding of the flammability of trees, shrubs and grass.
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, so that fire behaviour analysts, fire managers, land managers and prescribed-burning planners can better plan and manage fire and firefighting resources.
‘The displayed fuel moisture content and flammability maps have been generated using freely available satellite data,’ said Dr Marta Yebra, project leader from the Australian National University.
‘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. Emergency services and land management agencies including the New South Wales Rural Fire Service, 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.
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 AFMS is also being used in Europe, South Africa, Argentina, the United States and China.
The data available through the system is invaluable to fire and land management agencies, explains 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.
For more information, go to www.bnhcrc.com.au/hazardnotes/88