David Templeman

David Templeman

Minister for the Environment; Climate Change; Peel

    Major bushfire research findings launched

    2/11/2007 4:00 PM

    Australian forest fire managers will be better equipped to handle inevitable summer bushfires following the release today of the findings of a multi-million dollar research program.

    Environment and Climate Change Minister David Templeman released the findings of Project Vesta, Australia’s largest and most comprehensive research project into the behaviour and spread of high-intensity eucalypt forest fires.

    Mr Templeman said it was the most critical bushfire research project undertaken in terms of safety of fire crews on the fire ground and the protection of private property, community assets and biodiversity values.

    “Although existing scientific knowledge on fire behaviour is excellent, particularly for fires of low and moderate intensities, Project Vesta has shown these models under-predict the rate of spread of intense summer wildfires by a factor of three or more,” he said.

    “Accurate predictions of fire behaviour, particularly the rate of spread, intensity and ‘spotting’, are critical to responding to bushfires and protecting fire crews and the community.

    Vesta brought together scientists and technical expertise in forest fire behaviour from the Department of Environment and Conservation and Ensis - CSIRO’s forestry joint venture with New Zealand’s Scion Crown Research Institute.

    It was supported by the Australasian Fire Authorities Council and their members across Australia and New Zealand, as well as the local shires of Harvey, Bridgetown-Greenbushes and Mundaring.

    Planning and carrying out Project Vesta took seven years, a reflection of the meticulous approach the research team undertook in the lead-up to the field work, which included more than 100 experimental fires and 6,000 detailed measurements of fuel load and fuel structure.

    The key outcomes of the research were:
    • an improved visual rating system that effectively quantifies the forest fuel hazard and potential fire behaviour;
    • a new fire behaviour model that predicts the rate of spread, intensity and spotting distance of bushfires burning under high fire danger conditions;
    • a better basis for assessing the benefits of fuel reduction burning and other fuel management treatments that may be used to reduce the difficulty of suppressing fires and protecting assets;
    • more accurate mapping of the threat of wildfires to communities and local assets;
    • more accurate assessment of the fire suppression response, including the success of initial attack, the resources required and other logistical decisions such as crews and resources on standby, dispatch and fire suppression alternatives;
    • more reliable predictions of the path of wildfires to enable more timely warnings for the public and enhanced fire crew safety;
    • more accurate information on which to prepare fire management plans and budgets; and
    • more accurate information on which to base fuel hazard reduction programs, especially through prescribed burning.
    The Minister said the research had shown prescribed burning would reduce the rate of spread and intensity of a bushfire, as well as the number and distance of spotfires.

    An independent cost-benefit study of the project had shown the benefit to cost ratio was 80 to one.

    “This means that the $5.5million invested in Project Vesta has provided an overall value of more than $400million,” Mr Templeman said.

    “It is expected that that figure will be outweighed by the potential savings to towns and communities and environmental assets that can be achieved through improved fire management, both through fuel hazard reduction and bushfire suppression in the years to come.”

    The Minister acknowledged the research team and the DEC fire crews who undertook the experimental burns in forests east of Harvey and west of Nannup.

    The results of Project Vesta is available at http://www.naturebase.net and http://www.ensisjv.com/projectvesta

    Minister's office - 9220 5050