Virtual experience captures frightening reality of bushfires

11 January 2018

Victoria’s emergency management sector is using state-of-the-art technology to better prepare Victorians for the reality of bushfires.  

An innovative virtual reality (VR) experience places the user in the midst of a large fire, and is designed to encourage people to leave early on high risk days, before it is too late. When the experience begins, the user is told that a large bushfire is approaching their property. Having chosen not to leave early, they now must decide whether to attempt to evacuate, take shelter inside their home, or defend it against the oncoming blaze.

The immersive program simulates rapidly moving flames, ember attacks, poor visibility through thick smoke, and roaring noise. Whichever choice the user makes, the result is clear – failing to leave early on high risk days can have fatal consequences. The experience is designed to be confronting.

"We don't want people to experience a fire in reality," Emergency Management Commissioner Craig Lapsley said. "What we want them to do is learn from the experience of fire, so the VR option is a fantastic way of doing that."

Commissioner Lapsley said that while many Victorians have an idea of what they'll do in the case of a bushfire, effectively putting that plan into action can be incredibly difficult once a fire actually arrives, due to stress and changing conditions.

“People who choose to stay and defend their properties should be aware of what they will face”, he said.

Experience it yourself

The VR experience will be trialed at four Cinema Pop Up events (cinema tickets required) across regional Victoria in the coming weeks. 

  • Echuca (January 11–14)
  • Benalla (January 18–21)
  • Shepparton (January 25–28)
  • Seymour (February 1–4)

The VR experience will be available to Cinema Pop Up ticket holders, who can access it via the 'Leave Early' marquee located inside of the event boundaries. For Cinema Pop up tickets, visit cinemapopup.com.au (External link)

For more information about the VR demos, check out the 'Events' section of Vic Emergency's Facebook Page at facebook.com/vicemergency (External link)

The VR videos can also be accessed online via the VicEmergency YouTube channel (External link) (requires a device with 360° video capability).

Due to its realism, the experience is not recommended for people under 17 years, people living with a physical or mental health condition, or people who have lived through bushfire trauma.

Be prepared

You should always monitor warnings on high risk days and check Fire Danger Ratings daily throughout summer. Visit emergency.vic.gov.au (External link) for more information.