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

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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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Crop stubble burn experiments

In early March, the Fire team successfully completed nine heavily instrumented crop stubble burn experiments. This was the first phase of a major international collaboration to test a new theory on the role of convective heat transfer in fire spread. The research burns were carried out with the US Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Science Lab, San Jose State University and University of Canterbury’s Geography Dept. The burns were featured on TVNZ’s One News and

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Current Fire programme and research

DSC_1206copy_preview_jpegA five year MBIE and Industry funded research programme is well underway. We are lucky to have an international team of fire experts to work alongside bringing together cutting-edge research, new technology and fire prevention methods to help protect NZ communities against extremes fires.

Read more about our current research areas here.

To look at reports on previous research search here or access some of our tools and resources available click here.

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Welcome to our Website and Blog

DSC_5584_editWelcome to Scion’s Rural Fire Research blog. We are excited to share our research with you and invite you to have a look around our new website and meet the team. You can also sign up to receive research updates and notifications.

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