Northland fire hui and fair day


Working with whānau from Ngāti Te Aukiwa, the Waitaruke Marae Committee and Fire & Emergency New Zealand (FENZ), scientists from Scion and Te Tira Whakamātaki (The Maori Biosecurity Network) hosted two days of fire-related events on 2-3 August, with the aim of educating Northland communities about extreme fires. Extreme fires are the worst of wildfires, being more intense, faster-spreading and resistant to current fire management strategies. Major fires threaten not only our communities and their resources, but also native taonga.

The first event, namely a “values and protection” workshop identified what whānau, hapū and community value and want protected during extreme fire events. This information will be to help guide development of ‘targeted protection’ strategies, based around the most appropriate methods for protecting the values identified. Feedback on values will also be included in the development of plans for our national agencies, so they know what communities value the most, and where to focus their efforts and resources in the event of an extreme fire.

A community fire fair took place on the second day. This day was all about fire safety, fire science and fun, with entertainment for children, giveaways, education stalls, kitchen fire demonstration, and a helicopter monsoon bucket demonstration and fire trucks. A planned demonstration scrub burn had to be postponed because of wet weather.

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Scion fire team develops 360 degree in-fire camera


Scion’s Rural Fire Research team has developed a prototype for an in-fire 360° camera, which was successfully tested in the March 2019 stubble burns!

Originally thought up as a fun project in 2017, it was built by the Scion Fire team as a proof of concept to better understand fire behaviour in the flame front zone through direct tracking and observation of flame front passage, something previously impossible.

While in-fire cameras that can survive and record flames have been around for many years, these rely on traditional video cameras (previously VHS, and now action-type cameras) being protected within a fire-proof, heat-insulated housing. As such, the camera has a limited field of view only in one direction, and several cameras are needed to capture the fire approaching, passing by and then moving away (see video from 2018 stubble burns).

The 360° camera (in this case a Garmin VIRB 360) enables views in all directions to be recorded by a single camera (actually two lenses looking in different directions, with the resulting images then spliced together). The real advantage though is the ability of the user to interact with the video, by moving around within the imagery to look in different directions or, for our application, to focus in on specific fire behaviours and flame dynamics. (try it here)

The water-proof 360° camera is protected within a heat-tempered, liquid-filled glass bulb. The liquid absorbs the heat from the fire, so heats up only very slowly stopping the camera from overheating. Several other international research teams have developed similar camera systems (e.g. NIST, USFS).

It is hoped that footage will not only provide valuable data on fire behaviour but may also give the public an opportunity to better appreciate the force and intensity of wildfires.

So keep an eye out for more in-fire 360° footage from our next generation of camera!

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New video on NZ fire experiments

Fielddays video

A video on the New Zealand-led research to test the new theory of convective fire spread was produced recently, for use at the National Field Days. The video was aired as part of the joint science display by Scion, Landcare Research, AgResearch and ESR at the popular agricultural event.

The video describes the new convective theory, as well as the fire experiments being conducted by Scion’s fire research team together with national and international collaborators (from the University of Canterbury’s Geography Dept, US Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Science Lab and San Jose State University).

To date, two sets of burns have been completed in crop stubble fuels in 2018 and 2019, with further experiments planned for gorse scrub and subsequently wilding pines.

The video has been added to an updated section of the Rural Fire Research website (, where further videos will be added in future. Currently this includes this new video, plus the presentation by the US Forest Service’s Dr Mark Finney describing the basis for the new fire spread theory.

The video can also be found on YouTube.

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NZ research at the Fire Behavior & Fuels conference


New Zealand research featured strongly at the recent 6th Fire Behaviour & Fuels conferences. Concurrent conference sessions were held in: Sydney, Australia; Albuquerque, New Mexico in the USA; and Marseilles in France.

NZ researchers attended the Sydney event, where four oral talks and a poster were presented. Scion’s Grant Pearce gave an update on the NZ fire experiments testing the convective fire spread theory, while University of Canterbury’s Marwan Katurji presented on the thermal imagery component of this research.

Scion’s Ilze Pretorius also presented on NZ’s development of real-time fire detection, fire growth and smoke modelling systems, and meteorological conditions associated with the 2017 Port Hills wildfire. A poster on research to produce a wildfire hazard index for NZ, for use in comparing with other hazards, was also presented.

A presentation on the NZ burn experiments was also made by the US Forest Service’s Sara McAllister at the Albuquerque conference.

Extended abstracts for many of the other presentations made at the three conference sessions are available here.


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Paper on NZ fire use published


In New Zealand, fire has long been used as a tool to reduce pests and disease, regenerate land and remove unwanted vegetation. However, its continued use could be under threat due to public perceptions around risks from burns getting out of control, and impacts of smoke pollution and ecological damage.

In an effort to better understand the attitudes of rural practitioners and residents toward use of fire as a land management tool in New Zealand, Scion’s Rural Fire Research team conducted a national survey. A paper describing the findings was recently published in the international journal, Rangeland Ecology & Management.

This follows publication of initial study findings in Rural Fire Research Update 13.

With almost 700 responses from three audiences (rural land managers, rural populace, and rural fire personnel), the survey identified differing perceptions about the suitability of prescribed fire use by land-based sectors. Five constructs explained the attitudes toward use of fire as a land management tool: benefits of fire use, the tradition of fire as a tool, regulations and liabilities, smoke impacts from fire, and the risks from knowledge loss and changing land use. Other factors influencing attitude toward the use of fire included gender, current use of fire, and size of land area managed.

The paper can be viewed at the following link:
Bayne et al. (2019). Fire as a land management tool: rural sector perceptions of burn-off
practice in New Zealand. Rangeland Ecology & Management 72(3): 523-532.

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Fire research again in the media


The Scion fire programme was again in the media during April, with two articles featuring the team’s research.

The first was part of a feature in the Otago Daily Times, on the likelihood of more frequent wildfires like that in Pigeon Valley near Nelson with climate change. The article drew heavily on Scion’s research on projected changes in fire danger (e.g. Update #9 & recent Forestry paper), but also included local and national perspectives from FENZ as well as Lincoln University’s research around flammability of different plant species.

Scion’s work on developing real-time smoke and fire spread modelling tools was the feature of a second article by Radio NZ. This described use of the models at the Nelson fires, as well as the research into testing of the new theory around fire spread.

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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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