Volunteer firefighters call for government support in rolling out pioneering bushfire technology

The Association of Volunteer Bushfire Brigades (AVBFB) was recently invited to the University of Western Australia to meet with computer science professor George Milne, who has developed a groundbreaking new way of predicting the path of bushfires.

The association’s vice president Phil Penny and CEO Tony Papafilis were shown a demonstration of the Australis Bush Fire Protection System, which is currently only used by the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

Australis is an interactive wildfire simulator that forecasts the progression of wildfire across a landscape and projects it as a series of fire perimeters, called isochrons, onto a map.

It can be used as a predictive aid for wildfire incident management, a risk-analysis utility to determine outcomes to hypothetical “what-if” scenarios, and a cost-effective complement to conducting experiments with real fires.

AVBFB President Dave Gossage said the organisation was hoping to gain support in rolling the system out to WA’s various volunteer firefighter services with the aim of bringing their available technology to parity with DFES.

“As it is, DFES only have access to Australis, and from what we’ve seen the system would work just as effectively in volunteer firefighting groups,” he said.

“We’re hoping to get government support to get this going, because we’re confident it would make a big difference to how we handle the preperation and tackling of bushfires.”

Professor Milne and his team have been working on making the system capable of operating with a stand-alone laptop without needing to be connected to any central system and not being reliant on communication connectivity.

This would enable crews to get a quick modelling scenario of the likely direction of the fire based on local weather conditions.

The aim of the work is to facilitate data input from a portable weather station carried in an appliance to the laptop and produce a model of fire behaviour at the local level to help manage the fire with better informed tactical decision.

“We know the modelling does provide good results but currently it is only available to DFES in their head office,” Mr Penny said.

“This kind of technology should be available to all brigades, providing immediate intelligence at the local level and thus we support Professor Milne’s application for government funding to continue this important work.”