More media coverage for fire research


The Scion fire team’s research has continued to feature in the media in recent weeks, particularly following the Nelson/Tasman wildfires and release of local and international reports on the role of greenhouse gas emissions in increasing climate change impacts, including wildfire risk.

An article for Farmers Weekly describes Scion research on testing the new fire behaviour theory and development of real-time fire prediction tools, including smoke modelling, and a prescribed burn training module for farmers and others who light fires.

An article in NZ Logger magazine also described how the conditions that helped fuel the Pigeon Valley fire could become more common with climate change. In the immediate aftermath of the fire, the issue of fire breaks in plantation forests and on surrounding farmlands generated a lot of discussion in the media (also see comments at bottom of the following article). Grant Pearce provided a summary of the science around the role of fire breaks in a piece for the Science Media Centre’s Sciblogs webpage.

Two stories on fire research also featured in the latest (March 2019) issue of Scion’s Connections newsletter. One on the team’s description of fire danger and fuel conditions contributing to the Tasman forest fires and work producing smoke forecasts for the fires, and the other on the social research highlighting the new urban audience for wildfire messaging.

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Research team completes more stubble burns

P4P_20190322_2.Still004 - crop

Scion’s Fire team, together with the University of Canterbury, successfully conducted a number of experimental burns over the past two weeks in crop stubble vegetation. The burns build on the data collected in similar fuels back in March 2018.

The burns were the contingency for the next planned phase of experiments to test the new convective fire spread theory. It had been hoped to conduct a series of gorse burns this Feb/Mar. However, factors conspired to prevent this, with land use consent requirements delaying the planned gorse experiments, the US Govt shutdown meaning the US Forest Service team couldn’t travel, and then a total fire ban causing the stubble burns to be delayed by almost a month!

Four experimental burns were carried out to test improved data collection methods, including determining fire rate of spread from aerial UAV video using georeferenced ground targets. Hot targets were also used to aid quantification of aerial infrared measurements of flame and surface temperatures. Turbulence before, during and after the flame front spread past a 10m tower was also measured using paired sonic anemometers, rather than the single anemometer used at each height last time. It is hoped these paired sonic measurements will aid in quantifying the scale of the turbulent eddies generated by the flame front.

Four additional point-line ignition comparison burns were also conducted to investigate fire acceleration and development patterns. Spread of fires from point ignitions, and short (10 m) ignition lines, were compared against longer (up to 50 m) line ignitions lit simultaneously under the same burning conditions. Here the aim is to better understand the relative rates and duration of acceleration of different sized fires which, despite the long history of fire research, is still poorly understood.

All going to plan, the team plans to carry out the next phase of burn experiments in gorse shrub fuels later in the year (Oct/Nov.).

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Fire Research website updates


With all the media coverage lately around the Nelson/Tasman fires, and future fire risk with climate change, Scion’s rural fire research programme has received lots of attention.

In an effort to capture this, the Rural Fire Research website has been updated to include past as well as recent articles.

These can be accessed by clicking on the News & Events page, where you can access a range of information including:
–   Rural Fire Research blog postings
–   Hot Topics which have featured in Scion news items and media releases                                    (click on ‘See all’ to view the full list of items by year)

Media articles featuring the Scion fire research team are accessed by clicking on Media Items in the ‘Related Links’ box on the left hand side. More media articles will be added as they are produced, so keep checking for the latest updates.

If you’ve received this email directly, you are already signed up for the Rural Fire Research blog. But if you’ve been forwarded this, you can sign up to receive the Blog by clicking on the ‘SIGN UP’ link at the bottom of the blog list, or here.

Please forward this email on to others who you think might be interested in the Scion Rural Fire Research team’s activities, and accessing the Tools and other information available from the research team.


News&Events page

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March seasonal fire climate outlooks now available


The seasonal outlooks of fire danger conditions for March-May 2019 are now available.

This includes reports for each of the North and South Islands, as well as graphs of trends in fire danger conditions for weather stations in each region.

This month’s outlooks show the current very dry conditions continuing, with very high fire dangers persisting in many areas for at least most of March.

The Scion fire team also continues to produce weekly fire danger forecasts describing expected weather and fire danger conditions for the weekend and into the following week. These are released each Friday morning to fire managers and also posted on the Scion fire research website. They are also sent by FENZ to TVNZ for inclusion in the 1News 6pm weather each Fri. and Sat. night.


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Latest Tasman fire – predictions of what might have happened

Prometheus prediction-crop

Predictions of potential fire growth made by Scion’s fire team have been used to illustrate what could have happened during the latest Tasman forest fire.

Veronica Clifford modelled potential fire growth using the Prometheus fire simulation model. One of her worst case predictions showed the fire could have reached the main coastal highway between Richmond and Motueka within 4-5 hours. This assumed there was no fire suppression and that the fire would cross roads and tracks in the area.

Thankfully, with the support of helicopters and bulldozers, fire crews were able to contain the fire to a much smaller area. Containment was aided by quick reporting of the fire by the public, and rapid response by resources on high alert or working on the nearby Pigeon Valley fire.

In addition to Fire and Emergency New Zealand’s regional Facebook posting, the Prometheus modelling also featured on TV3’s Newshub 6pm news bulletin (given the fire investigations still being underway, please excuse the over-emphasis of arson as the likely cause of many of the recent Nelson fires!).

This was just one of the many modelling runs undertaken by Scion in support of the Tasman fire operations, which also included fire weather and fire behaviour predictions, and smoke forecasts.

Prometheus prediction

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Nelson forest fire puts Scion fire research in the spotlight


The major wildfire that has burned 2300 ha of forest and surrounding grassland at Pigeon Valley near Wakefield has resulted in much publicity for Scion’s rural fire research.

Scion fire scientist Veronica Clifford worked as part of the Incident Management Team coordinating fire control operations where she provided fire weather and fire behaviour predictions using a range of prediction tools developed by the Scion fire research group. Atmospheric scientists Ilze Pretorius and Tara Strand also produced smoke forecasts during the first few days of the fire using the prototype smoke model under development.

In the meantime, fire scientist Grant Pearce dealt with numerous enquiries around the factors contributing to the fire, and the future risk of more similar fires with climate change. This was picked up in a number of newspaper articles and online, and Grant was also interviewed on radio, including as part of features on the Tasman fire on Radio NZ’s Lately and Insight programs.

The Scion research team has also begun collecting information on the fire’s spread as part of a case study to evaluate how well existing fire behaviour models and prediction tools worked, and to assist in Fire and Emergency New Zealand’s operational reviews of the incident.

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New Update on improving safety at controlled burns


Scion’s Fire team has produced a new Rural Fire Research Update (no. 15) highlighting farmer safety when undertaking controlled burns in NZ.

The research, funded by Fire & Emergency New Zealand, followed the tragic deaths of three farmers in rural burn-offs in recent years, and recognition that there was no database of fatalities, injuries or near-miss events to help understand causes, or how farmers use fire and what specific actions lead to injury or death.

A list of fire incidents from over the past 140 years was compiled to find out what we can learn from these events. Most of the known incidents were from anecdotal accounts or newspaper reports. It included 68 incidents that resulted in serious harm injuries, 38 that resulted in fatalities and 72 reported incidents that did not result in injury.

Lack of preparation, working alone and without appropriate equipment and clothing, as well as being in the wrong place with no escape routes, were the major preventable factors that contributed to death and injury.

The study found that very little of the safety information available to farmers is widely used. In most cases, burn plans (how to proceed with the fire) and permit conditions (the conditions under which the burn is allowed) were the only formal written information most farmers consulted before lighting. However, there is evidence that farmers do listen and respond to advice about safe burning practices from Rural Fire Officers (RFOs). This makes onsite engagement by the RFOs critical in the exchange of knowledge around safe burning practices.

To aid farmers in improving safety and operational practices when preparing for and conducting burns, international guidelines could be adapted to NZ conditions, along with standardised burn plan templates for various types of fires. In addition, making practical burn training opportunities available to farmers describing how to achieve land management goals while maintaining safe burning practices, would help to mitigate injuries and fatalities.

The Update summary can be accessed here, while the full Report (#164) is available at

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February seasonal fire climate outlooks available

SI map

Seasonal outlooks of fire danger conditions for Feb-Apr 2019 are now available.

This includes reports for each of the North and South Islands, as well as graphs of trends in fire danger conditions for weather stations in each region.

The outlooks show current fire dangers and fire climate severity are High to Very High for many areas of the North Island, and Very High to Extreme in many parts of the South Island. With warmer than normal sea temperatures around NZ, and February typically the hottest month of the year, warmer and drier conditions are forecasted for most areas in February. This will see vegetation and soil moisture levels continuing to dry out, further elevating fire risk, and contributing to deeper burning and faster moving fires. In general, fire danger and fire climate severity are expected to peak in February and March for northern and eastern locations, but could even extend in to April/May.

In addition, the Scion team continues to produce weekly fire danger forecasts, released each Friday morning.

NI map.JPG

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Nelson fire smoke forecast for Tuesday to Thursday

Scion has produced a further smoke model forecast for Tuesday (12th) through to Thursday (14th Feb.) for the Pigeon Valley forest fire near Wakefield, Nelson.

Despite the fire being contained, large areas of fire activity and smouldering remain. Smoke hazard therefore remains medium to high over the next few days.

Of high importance: High smoke hazard is predicted for Redwood Valley, Richmond, Nelson City, Maitai, Mapua, Brightwater and Wakefield during the early morning of Tuesday, 12th February. The Nelson airport may be affected by visibility impacts.
Of high importance: High smoke hazard is again predicted for Mapua, Richmond and Nelson City (including the airport) on Thursday morning, 14th February, if fire activity and/or smouldering persists.
• Later on Tuesday morning and into the early afternoon smoke may reach Havelock, Renwick, Blenheim and Seddon.
• Smoke hazard is possible at Redwood Valley and Mapua on Wednesday morning.
• A medium smoke hazard is predicted for Wakefield, the Abel Tasman tourist areas, Mapua, Richmond and Nelson City (including the airport) on Wednesday afternoon.
• Narrow valleys are more vulnerable to smoke impacts on visibility (roads) and health.

In the images and video, the green colour depicts very light, yellow light, orange medium, and purple heavy smoke impacts. Concentrations in orange and purple indicate potential for unhealthy levels of smoke. People with asthma or other breathing conditions may be most severely affected, and should avoid exposure where possible by staying indoors with windows and doors closed.

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Latest Nelson fire smoke forecast

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An updated smoke forecast has been produced for the Pigeon Valley fire near Nelson showing predicted smoke dispersion for today (Friday 8th) and tomorrow (Saturday 9th).

This shows potential, if fire activity continues, for smoke hazard to impact Motueka and Nelson city, including Nelson airport.

With the wind forecast to change from southerly to more northerly, smoke also has the potential to spread into Marlborough, even possibly reaching Blenheim, from around midday Friday.

Key points from the forecast include:
Of high importance: If fire activity remains active, smoke hazards are predicted to be very high in Nelson City, Motueka and surrounds throughout Friday and Saturday.
Of high importance: Smoke is predicted to reach Nelson Airport around midday on Friday, and the risk of smoke hazard there will remain high throughout Friday night and Saturday morning.
Of high importance: Due to changing wind conditions, smoke is predicted to impact large areas in the Nelson and Marlborough regions throughout Friday.
• Under active fire conditions, smoke can potentially cause a hazard in Blenheim on Saturday morning (5 am onwards).
• There is potential for smoke to impact highways, particularly in the early mornings and evenings.
• Narrow valleys are especially vulnerable to smoke impacts on visibility (roads) and health.

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