Rural fire fighters no longer have to rely solely on experience, gut-feeling and prayer when it comes to battling wildfires thanks to 20 years of research by the Crown Research Institute Scion.
Senior fire researcher, Grant Pearce says for every wildfire that breaks out in New Zealand there is a fire manager reaching straight for field manuals or calculators produced by Scion.
“We have come a long way in 20 years. Forest and rural fire agencies now have access to a range of fire behaviour models specifically for New Zealand vegetation types.”
Scion will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of its fire research programme at the fourth Fire Research Workshop in Rotorua on June 14 and 15.
Two decades of data collection from experimental burns and wildfires have gone into building tools that enable fire managers to make better decisions in fire fighting operations.
These tools are designed to indicate how fast, and how severely, a fire is likely to burn in different vegetation types.
“These tools started out as paper-based lookup tables and field manuals. Over time, we evolved these into software applications, which are now being designed to run on smartphones.”
Scion established the fire research group 20 years ago when forest and rural stakeholders recognised the need for improved knowledge of New Zealand fire conditions.
“Every country has unique climate, vegetation types and terrain, all of which affect fire risk. New Zealand has a surprising number of rural fires every year that can threaten properties and lives. The purpose of our research is to reduce the damage caused by these fires.”
Previous fire research carried out by the New Zealand Forest Service focused on the management of fire in forests. Scion’s research programme recognises that fires in the landscape affect much more than just forests.
“Our research encompasses Department of Conservation and local government interests, as well as forestry companies,” Grant says.
“The scope of our work has also expanded to include social interests, focusing on the communities affected by wildfires. When it comes to the crunch, these are the people who stand to benefit most from fire management research.”
National Rural Fire Officer Murray Dudfield from the New Zealand National Rural Fire Authority says end users are pleased with progress made by the forest and rural fire research programme over the past 20 years.
“In the late 1980s, the school of hard knocks could only take us to a certain point. With the help of science, we have taken forward steps in the effective management of fire in our forest and rural landscape.”
Scion is hosting the June workshop in conjunction with the Rural Fire Research Advisory Committee.