Student researcher

James Furlaud Research Leader

Tasmania is under an increasing threat of catastrophic wildfires, in part due to a lack of fuel management, but mostly due to the increasing frequency of drought and heatwaves. To redress this situation there has been a step change in the scale of fuel mitigation treatments. The Tasmania Fire Service relies heavily on the PHOENIX rapidfire behaviour model in their decision making process. The PHOENIX rapidfire model is a dynamic, spatially- and temporally-explicit fire behaviour prediction model principally developed for the forests and woodlands of south-eastern Australia. Unfortunately, practical experience in Tasmania has shown that this model is inappropriate for key Tasmanian vegetation types (namely tall wet eucalypt forests) that are ecologically different than their equivalents on the mainland of Australia.

The core focus of this project is to frame and then attempt to resolve this problem. Firstly, I have analysed predictions of the PHOENIX model and compared these predictions across vegetation types to give an overview of worst-case scenario fire risk and the applicability of PHOENIX in different vegetation types. The key outcome of these analyses was that, in a worst case scenario, fire intensities were, by far, highest in the wet forests of southeast Tasmania, but also that these intensities were likely over predicted.  To address this, I have set up 24 fuel chronosequence plots in southeast Tasmania to characterise the fuel loads over time since the last fire and construct fuel accumulation curves for wet sclerophyll forest. I then plan to use a nationwide tall wet forest fuels dataset from the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (TERN) to investigate how these fuel accumulation rates are different in warmer climates and, hence, how the Tasmanian fuel curves might change with climate change.

These fuel curves will have been built so that they can be re-incorporated into PHOENIX or any potential new fire behaviour prediction model.  I plan to use such a newly-calibrated fire behaviour model to perform a simulation based risk assessment in Tasmanian wet forests, targeting areas identified by fire managers as being of prime concern. This will allow me to evaluate the risk to biodiversity hotspots, human populations and infrastructure of high value that abut wet forest fuel types under past, present and plausible future landscape designs.  It will allow for the evaluation of alternatives to planned burning, such as mechanical thinning, and the risk reduction associated with such treatments.

It should be noted that even though this study would focus on Tasmanian wet forests, understanding fire impacts, especially at the wildland-urban interface, is an issue of global concern. This project has much wider application, particularly given Tasmania is an ideal ‘natural laboratory’ to understand the effect of different fire management regimes on a landscape that is topographically varied and heterogeneous in its temperate vegetation types. In this vein, the study will provide a more general framework for adapting a generalised fire model to diverse new fuel loads and vegetation types.

Rainforests on Fire: Assessing Bushfire Risk in Tasmania's Wet Forest Types
18 Aug 2015
A proposal to calibrate the Phoenix RapidFire prediction model for Tasmania's wet forest types to better...
James Furlaud Conference Poster 2016
14 Aug 2016
Wet sclerophyll forests are Tasmania’s most dangerous fuel type
Simulating the effectiveness of prescribed burning at altering wildfire behaviour in Tasmania
30 Jun 2017
Prescribed burning is a widely accepted wildfire hazard reduction technique, however knowledge of its...
Resilient or suicidal giants: what types of fires do the world’s tallest flowering forests support?
19 Sep 2018
Australian tall wet eucalypt-dominated forests are widely considered to experience a fire regime of...
27 Aug 2019
Tall Wet Eucalypt Forests (TWEF) are one of the world’s most complex and unique forest types. A combination...