Understanding the Australian Fire Danger Rating System Program
Fire danger is a shorthand way of describing the potential level of danger should a fire start in vegetated areas. It does not indicate the chance of a fire occurring, nor does it provide a warning that a fire has begun, though these are common misconceptions. Fire danger calculations combine temperature, humidity, wind speed and a measure of the fuel state to estimate how a fire might behave.
The AFDRS will replace the current system developed in the 1960s, using the latest science, data and technology – and a better understanding of community needs – to improve the forecasting and communication of fire danger.
The system aims to:
- provide greater scientific accuracy to support government and emergency services decisions and advice
- increase community awareness of their fire risk
- give communities, industry and business clear and timely information in which they can have confidence.
In the AFDRS, there will be two ways of looking at fire danger. The Fire Behaviour Index is a scale of fire danger that takes the latest in fire science and produces outputs across eight different fuel types (compared to the existing two fuel types). Providing fine detail, it will support decisions about fire preparedness, prescribed burning and bushfire suppression.
Once the index has been calculated, a simple, easily understood Fire Danger Rating will be determined for an area, using similar inputs and potentially including other fire management considerations. This rating uses broad bands or levels designed to quickly communicate to the public the expected level of danger should a vegetation fire start and to describe actions they should take to ensure their personal safety. After extensive social research, the AFDRS Program team is working with communication and technical experts from fire agencies to design nationally consistent messaging that will promote community understanding and action.
The AFDRS Program includes three related projects overseen by a cross-jurisdictional Board:
- A project led by the NSW Rural Fire Service is working to move the new science into operational capability. The team is working with a software developer and the Bureau of Meteorology to build the underlying infrastructure, science and technology that will calculate and present fire danger information to decision makers.
- An implementation project led by a central team run out of the AFAC office is working closely with jurisdictional leads responsible for planning and delivering the implementation of the new AFDRS, including the development of nationally consistent community messaging.
- Finally, the NSW Rural Fire Service and the Bureau of Meteorology are researching new ways to support the prediction of fire danger. This project is developing prototype indices for ignition likelihood, fire impact and fire suppression difficulty. These indices will be evaluated for their potential to enhance fire management decision making through the AFDRS in the future.
Recent bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic have clearly put extra pressures on agencies across Australia. Despite this, all those involved with the AFDRS Program continue to bring energy and dedication to ensure timely delivery of this important national priority.