Fire predictions help keep communities safe

6 February 2019

As a fire develops, having the skills and systems to predict its path and potential impacts is critical for decision making. Victoria’s Fire Behaviour Analysts (FBANs) are a group of highly trained and sought after multi agency personnel who provide this information.

FBANs play an integral role both in the State Control Centre and at an incident, and are involved in responding to fires, as well as predicting the likelihood of fires on any given day.

Tim McKern, from CFA, is one of the many highly skilled Fire Behaviour Analysts (FBAN) who provides specialist advice and analysis about fire and smoke behaviour, as well as conducting fire spread predictions.

“The role requires both a solid understanding of the science involved in fire as well as significant fire ground experience,” Tim said.

“I regularly use the knowledge I have gained from fighting bushfires and participating in planned burning over the past 20 years. The training for FBANs involves training courses around fire weather, and an understanding of the development into fire behaviour models that we utilise.”

Using a computer program called Phoenix RapidFire, and taking into account environmental factors such as weather, fuels and typography, an FBAN is able to produce predictions in a three dimensional visual environment, such as Google Earth, that can show where a fire could spread, the risk and potential of spot fires, the rates of spread and potential impacts. This information can inform fire suppression tactics and how and where to place resources on the ground and in the air.

This information is also vital in enabling appropriate and timely information and warnings to communities across Victoria.

“Our role contributes to keeping communities safe by informing information and warnings. Advising incident management personnel when fires will reach a particular area, and how intense the fire will be allows them to make decisions on what they should do.

“Bushfires in Victoria are very dynamic events, burning material carried with the smoke and wind regularly start many new fires kilometres in front of the main fire front. By informing of the potential for this to occur we can warn the community and position our firefighting resources in safe and effective locations to minimise the impact of the fire,” Tim said.

The role is more than just completing a prediction, with evaluation and analysis used for continuous improvement.

“After a fire, we will evaluate how our predictions matched the way the actual fire unfolded. It is an area of constant learning, FBANs are closely linked with fire researchers to improve our knowledge of fire behaviour,” he said.

The skills of FBANs in Victoria is highly sought after and they work closely with their counterparts, both interstate and internationally.

“In 2017, I was deployed to Canada for five weeks to assist during one of their major bushfire seasons. FBANs from Canada and the United States have also assisted us in Victoria in previous fire seasons, this develops learning and sharing of skills and knowledge.”

Watch this video about the important role of the FBANs.