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Don’t let our small size fool you: Tasmania is making huge strides in fire preparation and detection

Updated: Feb 12

The recent ABC news article (pictured below) explains how weather, geography and fuel load influence fire behaviour in Tasmania and clearly highlights the growing risk of fire in Tasmania. As an IoT Solutions provider delivering a range of solutions to support Tasmania's fire preparedness and response, this article outlines some of our observations as to the technology being utilised in Tasmanian fire management efforts.

A firefighter observing the recent fire at Dolphin Sands in Tasmania (Source: ABC News)
A firefighter observing the recent fire at Dolphin Sands in Tasmania (Source: ABC News)

Bushfire management in Tasmania is a multifaceted challenge, demanding a collaborative effort among the state's fire agencies, local communities, and land managers. Together, they employ diverse strategies, such as controlled burns, firebreaks, community education, early warning systems, and cutting-edge technology to monitor and respond to fire incidents.

Situated in the southern expanse of Australia, Tasmania is one of the most bushfire-prone areas in the world. The state grapples with a heightened risk of wildfires due to its distinctive environmental and climatic factors. South-eastern Australia, including Tasmania, is regarded as one of the most bushfire-affected regions globally. The complexities of Tasmania's landscape, including the rugged terrain, extensive forests, and evolving climate conditions, result in persistent challenges in mitigating and responding to the ever-present threat of bushfires.

Tasmania’s history of bushfire

Tasmania's history is marred by devastating fires that have left an indelible mark on the state. One of the most harrowing incidents was the 1967 Black Tuesday bushfires, a catastrophic event that claimed the lives of 62 people and laid waste to nearly 3,000 structures, including substantial portions of the capital city, Hobart. The fires burned through an astonishing 264,270 hectares in the state's South in just five hours. Another grim chapter unfolded in 2013 when a bushfire ravaged Dunalley, reducing more than half of the town's buildings and the primary school to ashes. In January 2019, Tasmania faced another unprecedented fire event when 2402 dry lightning strikes ignited 70 fires, forming four massive fire complexes that consumed over 210,000 hectares, including 95,000 hectares within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

The impact of climate change on bushfire risk in Tasmania

Tasmania's fire risk has undergone a significant transformation in recent years, primarily due to the influence of climate change. Scientific evidence, as highlighted by the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC) report, underscores the alarming trend of longer and more severe fire seasons in Tasmania, in alignment with climate change projections. Under high-emission scenarios, studies indicate that fire danger will steadily rise, particularly in spring, leading to an extended fire season and an increased number of days with extreme forest fire danger. The effects of climate change have caused a reduction in soil and vegetation moisture levels, making typically wet vegetation more susceptible to ignition, particularly from lightning strikes. Tasmania's unique climate characteristics, marked by dry summers and strong winds, make it particularly susceptible to rapidly spreading bushfires, posing significant threats to communities, ecosystems, and infrastructure. The drying trend, as projected by climate change models for Tasmania, is expected to persist throughout the 21st century, significantly impacting fire weather conditions.

Effective bushfire management hinges on early detection of fires

Approximately 42% of Tasmania has vegetation that is suitable for treatment through fuel reduction burning programs (State Fire Management Council). This means preventing catastrophic fire events hinges on the effective and accurate detection of fire in its early stages, especially in remote and rugged terrains. What is required, therefore, is the adoption of early detection technologies that can improve responsiveness and enhance fire management in Tasmania.

Adoption of #FireTech in Tasmania

Based on our observations, Indicium believes that forest and fire managers in Tasmania are at the forefront of the adoption of innovative #FireTech, using it to enhance their preparedness and the detection of wildfires. Here are some great examples of this:

Supported by the Mindaroo Foundation, the Tasmanian Fire Service, Parks and Wildlife, and Sustainable Timber Tasmania are trialling high-definition fire cameras at three sites in northern Tasmania. These cameras are equipped to detect smoke in remote locations and instantly notify the relevant agencies. They can pan, zoom, and tilt, capturing 360-degree images of the landscape every 15 minutes. Read more about the initiative.

Sustainable Timber Tasmania is employing fuel moisture probes to accurately monitor moisture levels in forest fuels, aiding in the determination of optimal fire prevention burn strategies. When combined with local weather data, this technology boasts an impressive accuracy rate at determining ideal timing for fuel management burns. Read more about the role of fuel moisture probes in fire management.

Indicium Dynamics has developed a fire detection solution called Fire Foresight – which uses AI vision to detect fire smoke rapidly and accurately. The solution combines AI smoke detection capability with IoT connectivity, delivering a remote fire-sensing solution that provides timely, precise and reliable fire detection data in real-time.

An image of a landscape with a device, and an AI box to detect smoke
Fire Foresight in action - AI detection of a small fire in Tasmania

Another noteworthy initiative is Project Forest Foresight, spearheaded by Indicium Dynamics. This project brings together a diverse coalition of private and public forest managers, along with wilderness forest managers, in a collaborative effort to establish shared #ForestTech infrastructure. The project aims to generate collective data insights, encompassing localised weather, soil moisture, fuel moisture, and imagery captured by Fire Foresight's solution for fire monitoring and detection. The collaborative essence of this initiative is set to significantly enhance Tasmania’s fire detection capabilities. Dive deeper into the details of Forest Foresight HERE.

Forest Foresight imagery

In conclusion, Tasmania confronts substantial challenges in the management and mitigation of fire risks. The impacts of these fires, both in terms of the human lives lost and the economic consequences, underscore the gravity of the situation. In this ever-evolving landscape, Tasmania's proactive approach to leveraging technology offers a glimmer of hope. By embracing innovative methods and the collaboration of various stakeholders, Tasmania is moving towards a future where bushfires can be managed more effectively, and the risks minimised. It is a journey that holds the promise of a safer and more resilient Tasmania.

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