Communicating fire danger for behaviour change

Roadside billboard-Wgtn 2010

How much do the familiar fire danger rating signs and other communication methods actually change people’s behaviour?

Scientists from Scion’s Rural Fire Research Group have looked at how fire danger communication can influence behaviour to reduce wildfires. This work was supported by funding from Fire and Emergency New Zealand (formerly the New Zealand Fire Service Commission).

The researchers brought together interview responses from fire managers and researchers in New Zealand and overseas, as well as a findings from a range of behaviour change literature, with the aim of providing fire managers and communities with better guidance for communicating fire danger and wildfire risk.

Current communication is about distributing information on signs and in the print media. But there is evidence that information alone does not change behaviour. Initiatives that go beyond risk awareness, using emotions, habits and social norms are effective ways to change behaviour. People will also only change if they feel their actions will make a real difference. Therefore it is important to be clear on what the desired outcome of a change is, show that it is achievable, and demonstrate its impact.

Read more about the work in:
Rural Fire Research Update 14,
Fire Technology Transfer Note No. 44, and
• the full FENZ Research Report No. 156

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Fire use survey findings

Farmer burning stubble

Scion’s Fire Research team has published another Rural Fire Research Update. Update #13 describes the findings from a survey on the use of fire as a land management tool in New Zealand. Fire is widely used for the removal of organic rubbish, invasive weed clearance, land preparation, grass growth regeneration and stock access improvement. But the practice is not without risk, as escapes from burns are common and smoke impacts are  major concerns.

The findings from the survey give a better understanding of the regional and audience differences in fire use practices and concerns. The data is being used to help develop targeted information and burn training courses that aim to reduce the adverse effects of fire, particularly effects of fire and smoke on human safety and health, as well as to help inform the general public as to why burning is taking place.

Read more about the study survey findings in Rural Fire Research Update 13, and the associated report.

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November seasonal fire outlooks available


The seasonal outlooks for fire danger conditions over the next three months (Nov-Jan.) have just been produced.

These provide a heads-up on how fire danger conditions are tracking in different parts of the country as we transition from spring into summer.

As well as full reports for each island containing the outlook for each region, graphs are also available comparing current fire dangers (DC, BUI and CDSR) at individual station locations.

The reports and graphs can be accessed here.

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Fire Behaviour & Fuels Conference – save the date!


The International Fire Behaviour & Fuels Conference is held every 3-4 years. The 6th edition, in April/May 2019, will be held concurrently in Australia, France & USA, with live-streamed shared keynote presentations. The conference theme of “Fuels of Today – Fire Behavior of Tomorrow” aims to bring focus to the many issues associated with understanding fuels, fire behaviour, large wildfires, and how they affect sound decision making and effective wildland fire management in the future.

This conference therefore provides a valuable opportunity for fire personnel and researchers at all levels to share information globally about wildland fire behaviour and fuels, especially as it pertains to physical, biological, economic, and social sciences. The call for abstracts is still open if you’d like to be a speaker (now closes 21 November) – note that there are separate submission systems for each location, so please select carefully to submit your presentation proposal to the conference location you will be attending.

For more information, go to

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UAV hotspot detection


The latest Rural Fire Research Update (Update #12) describes research to develop methods for detecting smouldering hotspots using Unmanned Aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Hotspot detection has been done in the past either by hand or with the help of infrared (IR) scanning from a helicopter, both of which have limitations. Helicopters are expensive, and walking the fire ground is slow and risky as it requires fire crew to remove gloves and feel for heat.

Early research demonstrated the potential of a UAV-mounted IR camera to locate the presence of hotspots. This technology was operationally deployment for the first time in New Zealand during the 2017 Port Hills fire, where it provided vital information and support for firefighters.

UAVs were deployed in synergy with helicopter operations during the response, with helicopters scanning the entire fire perimeter to identify areas of concern. UAVs then located hotspots and mapped them in detail, providing the information to firefighters.


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New presentation video uploaded

Mark presn

A video of a presentation by visiting fire scientist Mark Finney, of the US Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Lab, has been loaded onto the Rural Fire Research webpage.

In this presentation, Mark describes their new theory on fire spread and the large-scale field experiments being run in New Zealand to test this theory.

The presentation was given during the first phase of a major international collaboration that is examining how heat transfer, fluid mechanics and weather combine to allow a fire to spread in real world conditions. Over the next four years, various vegetation types will be burnt in an attempt to unlock the mysteries of fire behaviour with the aim of improving models for predicting wildfires.

Access the video here.


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Radio interview on extreme fire and climate change

Interest in wildfires and possible links with climate change is extremely high at present given the international wildfire situation, which includes devastating fires in Portugal, Greece, California and other parts of the world.

Fire scientist Grant Pearce had the opportunity recently to talk on 95bFM about extreme fire and climate change.

Listen to the interview.

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Recent climate change paper generates renewed interest in future fire impacts


Projections of the annual frequency of Very High and Extreme (VH + E) forest fire danger over the fire season months.

A paper recently published by Scion scientists has generated renewed interest in the potential impacts of climate change on wildfire risk in New Zealand.

The paper in the international journal Forestry summarised a decade of research into multiple climate change effects on New Zealand’s plantation forests.

For wildfire, the paper reiterated that most areas of the country will experience an increase in fire danger in future, with the average fire season length increasing by about 70% per cent up to 2040 and by about 80% per cent up to 2090. Although the most fire prone regions of Gisborne, Marlborough and Canterbury will remain the highest at risk, the relative (%) increase in fire danger frequency is highest in Wellington and coastal Otago, where it could double and triple to 30 days and 20 days of Very High & Extreme fire danger per season, respectively. (see NZ Herald article).


Projected average number of days of the fire season with Very High and Extreme (VH + E) forest fire danger under current conditions and in 2040 and 2090, at individual station locations and averaged for New Zealand across the 12 GCMs. Locations were grouped with respect to New Zealand’s main mountain ranges, then ordered by latitude (northern-most left).

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Supporting forestry burns

Fire research personnel assisted Wenita Forestry staff who were conducting land clearing burns as part of a multi-year forest establishment project by Ngai Tahu Forestry in North Otago. The research team provided advice on burn prescription and forecast weather windows, as well as modelling smoke dispersion. Having encountered some smoke issues during the previous year’s burns, the smoke model runs gave the forest managers and Fire and Emergency NZ personnel greater confidence to carry out this year’s burning.

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Smoke model testing using the 2015 Marlborough forest fires

waikakaho 488-lo

The Scion Rural Fire Research team recently produced another Rural Fire Research Update glossy newsletter. Update #11 details testing of the BlueSky smoke modelling framework using three major forest fires that occurred in Marlborough during 2015. Smoke models are used to predict dispersion of smoke and emissions concentrations from wildfires and prescribed burns. The testing showed these models have promise for use in New Zealand to assist with public health warning, air traffic control and avoiding smoke nuisance.

Read Update #11 here.

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