A new fire danger rating system has been launched, aiming to provide easy-to-understand risk indicators for Australians across all states and territories.
The simplified new system, which cost $50 million to develop, provides four risk ratings ranging from moderate to catastrophic. It is predicted that the approach will make decision-making for landholders and firefighters easier and remove the inconsistency created by state-based matrices.
Development by the Australian and New Zealand National Council for Fire and Emergency Services (AFAC) included a significant focus on the science behind bushfires including regional vegetation types and improved weather predictions. Combined, it is hoped that these indicators will provide more accurate and regionally specific fire danger warnings.
“There’s a really wide range of vegetation across Australia which wasn’t represented in the current system,” said Stuart Mathews, the project’s lead scientist.
“We’ve worked together with the states and territories and some of the national agencies to get their best vegetation and fuel information and put that all together in a consistent way, which means we’ve got a detailed understanding of the fuel that’s driving fire danger across the entire country.”
While Dr Mathews stressed that fires are inherently predictable, testing has already shown that the new system is more accurate than the current version.
“We tested our current system and our new rating system against 300 fires over past seasons and we found the current system was correct in describing risk for less than half of those fires,” he said. “For the new system it’s up to about two-thirds so there’s still room for improvement, but in the fire space where there’s a lot of uncertainty, that’s a significant improvement.”
New Fire Danger Rating System Welcomed by States
Initial feedback from bushfire responders and the community has been positive, with many fire management experts welcoming the consistency and simplicity of the new system.
Chris Hardman, chief fire officer with Forest Fire Management Victoria, said that the new approach would help communities at risk to “connect the fire danger rating to what action they should be taking on the ground”.
“It provides government and industry with better decision-making tools and builds a truly national system. Fires do not respect boundaries. The establishment of this national system will make a really significant improvement to how we communicate what the particular risks are at any given time to the community,” he added.
While La Nina conditions have provided wetter-than-average spring conditions, this will also likely result in higher fuel loads in the lead-up to bushfire season. Still, the national bushfire outlook is predicting an average or below-average fire season.
Summer rainfall could create a headache for the country’s summer croppers, but overall estimates show that conditions are largely favourable for Australia’s farmers.
“The Australian farming sector does better when we have more rather than less rainfall,” said Cheryl Kalisch-Gordon, a senior commodities analyst with Rabobank.
“If you look across the sector there is probably equal plus-risk and minus-risk.”
For more information about the new Australian Fire Danger Rating System go to the AFAC website, here.