SYDNEY – Technology that can predict bushfires is being developed in Australia, one of the world’s most fire-prone countries. It will offer real-time visual displays of how fires are likely to spread. It comes as dozens of homes already have been destroyed this year by fires on the outskirts of the Western Australian state capital, Perth.
Bushfires are a perennial menace in Australia. This week, Perth has confronted twin emergencies: raging flames and a coronavirus lockdown.
“When I had to evacuate, I didn’t want to come to the evacuation center because I, obviously with the lockdown, I was so concerned that this was going to be like a COVID hot spot,” one resident said. “Yeah, grabbed my animals and just headed straight for the beach, actually. I ended up trying to sleep in my car,” she said.
Firefighting in Australia is becoming increasingly sophisticated. A new simulator is being developed to predict well in advance how bushfires will move across the landscape.
Currently, there are varying systems of modeling bushfires across Australian states and territories. The new technology could give emergency crews a critical advantage.
Mahesh Prakash, a senior principal research scientist at Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, is working in collaboration with other organizations.
“We take real-time weather as well as satellite data feeds for being able to predict the bushfires,” the scientist said. “We also take fuel and vegetation inputs. We are also working with state-based emergency management agencies who are trialing it out as we speak on a monthly basis while we are developing new features in the system as well as making it more robust. In the Australian context, we are intending it to be a nationally operational system over the next two to three years. We are also engaging with agencies in the U.S. such as CAL FIRE as well as with a few organizations in Europe, especially ones based in Spain, Portugal and Italy.”
During Australia’s unforgettable Black Summer disaster of 2019 and ’20, 24 million hectares of land were burned, 33 people died and more than 3,000 homes were destroyed. An official report into the tragedy warned that bushfires would become “more complex, more unpredictable, and more difficult to manage.”
Authorities said Saturday that most of the huge fire that has been threatening parts of Perth had now been contained.