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Fire Behaviour Analysts Boost Bushfire Capability
Wednesday 16 October 2019 – 11:00 AM

​Western Australia’s bushfire response has been bolstered leading into summer with 19 bushfire specialists completing an intensive five-day Fire Behaviour Analyst (FBAN) course. 

The participants learned key skills in understanding fire behaviour including how to analyse weather, fuel and terrain data, develop bushfire predictions including rate of spread and produce maps based on estimated fire behaviour. 

It built on existing prediction capability by teaching students how to analyse and communicate key risks of predicted fire behaviour and identify a range of fire suppression options. 

Course participants included ten staff from Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES), seven from Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA) and two from South Australia’s Department for Environment and Water. 

DFES Chief Superintendent Bushfire Centre of Excellence John Tillman said the course learnings would be invaluable for the upcoming bushfire season.   

“DFES and DBCA can now draw on these skilled people to provide informed and timely predictions of bushfire behaviour and communicate suppression recommendations to incident managers,” Chief Superintendent Tillman said. 

“Understanding what a fire might do and how it could impact the community is a major advantage during bushfire emergencies and will help give first responders the upper hand on a fire.

“We’re also better positioned to leverage equipment like DFES’ and DBCA’s new Portable Automatic Weather Stations to analyse the impact of weather on a fire and enhance the accuracy of our predictions.”

The FBAN course, facilitated by DFES’ Bushfire Centre of Excellence, was presented by Dr Kevin Tolhurst from Victoria.

Dr Tolhurst is an Associate Professor in Fire Ecology and Management with more than 40 years’ experience with the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning. 

Guest presenters included spinifex expert Dr Neil Burrows, heathland expert Dr Lachie McCaw from DBCA and grassland expert Dr Andrew Sullivan from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

DFES Office of Bushfire Risk Management Assurance Program Manager Glen Daniel said the course was a fantastic opportunity to learn from Australia’s most experienced fire behaviour scientists. 

“The course heightened my understanding of the models and techniques used to predict how a bushfire may develop and affect the community, including how rapidly a fire will spread, its intensity and how far embers may be carried by the wind,” Mr Daniel said. 

“These learnings are of great benefit to me as an Intelligence Officer within one of DFES’ preformed incident management teams where my role is to provide information about the possible spread of a fire and its future impact.

“It improves our capability to give accurate warnings to the community, keep firefighters safe, enact effective suppression strategies and plan for post-fire recovery.    

“It also assists both DFES and DBCA in safely planning and undertaking prescribed burns, with staff equipped to provide expertise and support on potential weather impacts and fire behaviour ahead of time.”

Prior to participating in the FBAN course, participants successfully completed two prerequisite Fire Weather courses where they learnt the impact of weather on fire behaviour, local weather observation and forecasting tools. 

The Bushfire Centre of Excellence is working to develop WA-specific Fire Weather Courses for delivery in 2020 to provide volunteers and bushfire personnel with additional skills and knowledge in collecting, interpreting, analysing and recording weather information in a bushfire. 

These courses will enhance the State’s overall bushfire capability by building capacity to assess the effects of weather on fire behaviour and provide the foundations for fire behaviour analyst training in the future.