Australia, a future fire leader [fr]
On 30 July 2020, the Final Report of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry into the 2019-2020 fire season in the state of New South Wales was released, commissioned on 30 January 2020 by the Premier of NSW.
Bushfires are annual summer events in Australia, part of the natural dynamics of the land. However, the 2019-2020 fire season was not only extreme in terms of the number of simultaneous fires, their location, extent and duration (hence the use of the term megafire), but also different from previous seasons in terms of behaviour, particularly in the increase of fire-generated thunderstorms. The difficulties encountered led to the conclusion that the system in place had not been built to respond on such a scale, as conventional preparation and management methods, when they could be applied, were not sufficient. It is very likely that seasons of this intensity will be repeated in the future, so it is now necessary to learn and adapt to these new parameters.
Therefore, this report and its supporters do not aim to prevent all fires from occurring across the country, but to improve the way the state, and by extension Australia, prepares for and responds to fires in order to reduce their impact on the economy (destruction of property and farmland), the environment (biodiversity) and human health, with the primary objective of reducing deaths in communities and fire services. Within this framework, certain themes were deliberately not addressed, such as recovery after fires and the evaluation of economic impacts.
The Inquiry is to consider the following matters:
- The causes of, and factors contributing to, the frequency, intensity, timing and location of, bushfires in NSW in the 2019-20 bushfire season, including consideration of any role of weather, drought, climate change, fuel loads and human activity.
- The preparation and planning by agencies, government, other entities and the community for bushfires in NSW, including current laws, practices and strategies, and building standards and their application and effect.
- Responses to bushfires, particularly measures to control the spread of the fires and to protect life, property and the environment, including:
- immediate management, including the issuing of public warnings,
- resourcing, coordination and deployment,
- equipment and communication systems.
To this end, meetings were held with key stakeholders, government agencies and other organizations, researchers from many Australian universities and research organizations, as well as fire and technology experts. The opportunity for public input was offered through site visits, public submissions and community meetings, to ensure the Inquiry could hear from as many people as possible. The survey also reviewed previous bush fire reports and surveys to understand the response to previous fires in New South Wales and Australia more generally, and examined their implementation status. It also relied on documents and met with representatives and researchers from the Bureau of Meteorology, the Bushfire & Natural Hazards Collaborative Research Centre and CSIRO.
In conclusion, 76 recommendations were proposed, ranging from improving business systems and processes to in-depth research. Some can be put into practice ahead of the 2020-21 season, others require further development, such as continuing research and consultations/collaborations with stakeholders.
Concerning the areas of international scientific cooperation and research, Recommendation 4 suggests improving the capabilities for near real-time detection and monitoring of fires, in terms of departure, intensity and progression. A space technology acceleration program could maximize the information available from the various remote sensing technologies currently in use, and allow for the inclusion of new remote sensing systems that can accurately and rapidly detect through smoke, clouds, fog and dust.
As well, Recommendation 5 suggests taking advantage of research efforts to establish NSW as a major world centre of bush fire research, technology development and commercialization around fire management. This should include:
- Establishing a Bush Fire Technology Fund, modelled on the Medical Devices Fund, to assist with the rapid development of technologies and services to sense, fight, mop up after and protect from bush fires;
- Commissioning further research into extreme fire behaviour and building up the research and research training capacity in this field. This will improve our ability to understand, model and predict the likelihood of extreme fire behaviour in the landscape and enable targeting of firefighting resources to areas where fires are likely to become most damaging.
The risk profile for the future 2020-21 fire season for forested areas of New South Wales was considered average as at 14 July 2020. This profile is primarily determined by winter and spring rainfall, grass growth and the key climate drivers. The NSW Rural Fire Service has advised that it continues to monitor the increasing grass fuel loads and grass fuel dryness in central NSW until the start of the 2020-21 season on 1 October 2020. In addition, the ongoing impact of COVID-19 will be felt locally and in interstate cooperation capabilities, including enabling new recruits to complete all the requisite training ahead of the season commencing.
During the 2019-20 fire crisis, France was one of the countries that came to provide technical assistance to Australia through the mobilization of five French fire management experts, some of whom shared more than 40 years of experience in firefighting in Europe and South America. The French support and expertise had been appreciated, and following these events, many stakeholders expressed their interest in strengthening collaboration between the two countries in the areas of fire management and climate change risks, as well as prevention and resilience strategies.
In this context, the Group of Eight (Go8, a group bringing together 8 of Australia’s top universities), the Australian Bushfire & Natural Hazards CRC, and the European task force SAFE Cluster are partnering with the French Embassy in Australia to organize an online French-Australian workshop on wildland fire science from 15-17 September 2020, to explore and exchange expertise and best practices from both countries.
The workshop will provide Australian and French researchers (from both mainland and New Caledonia) with a space for sharing and meeting to discuss the latest advances in research on the management of wildland fire and other natural hazards, in conjunction with the main users of this research, including emergency services and government agencies.
This initiative aims to capitalize on the international interest that has been evident this year in fire response and suppression practices. Current and future stakeholders will gain a better appreciation of where joint activities between the two countries could improve knowledge, tools and practices to address these current and future challenges.
The program of the workshop will take place over three days, from 8:00 to 10:30 am in France and from 4:00 to 6:30 pm (AEST) in Australia. The discussions will be led by researchers, as well as representatives of governments and organisations from both countries. Participants will have the opportunity to ask questions to the panels.
Topics to be discussed will include:
- Emergency response to the crisis
- The Science of Extreme Fires
- Management of land, forests and urban areas
- The cost of fires
- Environmental restoration
- Future risks
- Opportunities for collaboration
To registrer or for more information, go to:
If you have any questions regarding your registration for this event, please contact: Priscilla Boulet-Gilly, at firstname.lastname@example.org or +61 (02) 6216 0133