Simon Heemstra

Dr Simon Heemstra

Dr Simon Heemstra

Lead end user

Over six years, the project used cutting-edge technology to produce near-real-time spatial information on fuel condition, fire hazard and impact to support a wide range of fire risk management and response activities such as hazard reduction burning and pre-positioning firefighting resources and, in the longer term, the new Australian Fire Danger Rating System. Based on the research findings, the researchers have produced the Australian Flammability Monitoring System, an interactive map of immediate fire danger associated with landscape dryness, which uses satellites to collect information about moisture content in trees, shrubs and grass, and assists with prescribed burning efforts and assessment of firefighting resources.
Research team:
This project is using high-resolution modelling, together with a range of meteorological data, to better understand and predict important meteorological natural hazards, including fire weather, tropical cyclones, severe thunderstorms and heavy rainfall. The outcomes from the project will contribute to reducing the impact and cost of these hazards on people, infrastructure, the economy and the environment.
Research team:
This research tested two established reliable physics-based models—the Fire Dynamics Simulator and FIRESTAR3D—to simulate bushfire scenarios in three broad areas: sub-canopy wind flow, firebrand transport, and propagation of grass and forest fires. The team has made significant inroads into providing usable outputs as well as understanding various aspects of bushfire behaviour. This project was established to create a capability and capacity in Australia to conduct research and understand physical-based wildfire modelling approaches. There are several international groups developing these models, and it is imperative that Australia can interact and work alongside these researchers to translate the findings to the Australian context.
This study is identifying the thresholds beyond which dynamic fire behaviour becomes a dominant factor, the effects that these dynamic effects have on the overall power output of a fire, and the impacts that such dynamic effects have on fire severity. This will necessarily include consideration of other factors such as how fine fuel moisture varies across a landscape. The research team is investigating the conditions and processes under which bushfire behaviour undergoes major transitions, including fire convection and plume dynamics, evaluating the consequences of eruptive fire behaviour (spotting, convection driven wind damage, rapid fire spread) and determining the combination of conditions for such behaviours to occur (unstable atmosphere, fuel properties and weather conditions).
Research team:
The project aimed to improve understanding of fire and atmosphere interactions and feedback processes through running the coupled fire-atmosphere model ACCESS-Fire. ACCESS-Fire is an important research tool and has the potential to be a critical operational tool. It will assist in informing fire management decisions as increasingly hazardous scenarios are faced in a changing climate. Further deliverables from the project include the preparation of meteorological and simulation case studies of significant fire events as publications, installation and testing of the ACCESS-Fire coupled model on the National Computing Infrastructure; and preparation of training material to support operational implementation of research findings. The project has demonstrably achieved the objective of building and sharing national capability in fire research and has provided fire and meteorology expertise during high impact events in support of end-users inside their operational centres.

Fire behaviour in dry eucalypt forests in Australia (and in many other vegetation types to a lesser extent) is characterised by the occurrence of spotfires—new fires ignited by the transport of burning debris such as bark ahead of an existing fire. Under most burning conditions, spotfires play little role in the overall propagation of a fire, except where spread is impeded by breaks in fuel or topography and spotfires allow these impediments to be overcome. However, under conditions of severe bushfire behaviour spotfire occurrence can be so prevalent that spotting becomes the dominant propagation mechanism and the fire spreads as a cascade of spotfires forming a ‘pseudo’ front. It has long been recognised that the presence of multiple individual fires affects the behaviour and spread of all fires present. The converging of separate individual fires into larger fires is called coalescence and can lead to rapid increases in fire intensity and spread rate, leading to the phenomenon of a ‘fire storm’. This coalescence effect is frequently used in prescribed burning, with multiple point ignitions used to rapidly burn out large areas.

The team has demonstrated the performance advantages of fire propagation models incorporating curvature dependence when applied to simple wind-driven fires at both laboratory and field scales. The research has also produced fundamental insights into how the shape of the fire line affects the dynamic behaviour of the fire as a whole. Coupled fire-atmosphere modelling was used to investigate how fire-induced air movements (pyroconvection) can produce significantly enhanced rates of spread for certain fire shapes.

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