Aurora: Enhancing the capabilities of Landgate’s FireWatch with fire-spread simulation

Predicting probable fire spread is vital to the success of fire suppression and protection of lives and property. Fire authorities responsible for deploying resources gain a valuable advantage if they know in advance where the fire is likely to be by the time resources arrive. Researchers at the University of Western Australia (UWA) have developed software, called Australis, to simulate bushfire spread over the various fuel types found within Australia. The Western Australian Government’s Statutory Authority Landgate has been detecting fire hotspots (FHSs) from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS), onboard the Terra and Aqua satellites, in near real-time for over 10 years using both US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) software and algorithms developed in-house. Aurora, a new web based system developed by Landgate in partnership with UWA and the Western Australian Government’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES), uses these satellite-derived FHSs as ignition points for the UWA simulator. Other variables are also used including real-time gridded weather forecast data and gridded drought-factor data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM). This allows simulations of up to 24 hours to be activated automatically each time a set of FHSs from MODIS are detected. The output from each simulation is sent to the Aurora website. This secure website allows fire controllers to overlay the bushfire spread simulations on other Geographical Information System (GIS) datasets to determine what infrastructure is threatened and what access is available to enable suppression of the fire. Armed with this valuable information, a fire controller can then deploy resources with maximum efficiency. The fire controller is also able to run simulations using a combination of his/her own information (including firebreaks) and pre-existing data. This allows the testing of various ignition points and weather conditions in order to determine the best days for carrying out prescribed burns or to run a series of scenarios quickly to optimise fire-suppression outcomes.