Scion’s rural fire research improves the ability of New Zealand fire agencies to proactively manage fire risks and prepare for emergencies. 

Our research focuses on developing the New Zealand Fire Danger Rating System (NZFDRS) as a primary decision support tool for fire managers.

We aim to:

  • Develop and validate the Fire Weather Index, Fire Behaviour Prediction and Fire Occurrence Prediction modules of the NZFDRS
  • Develop models to predict the rate of fire spread and fuel consumption
  • Disseminate research results to rural communities and encourage development of local solutions to rural fire hazards
  • Determine the effectiveness of communication of fire danger warnings in reducing fire hazard and ensuring the safety of communities in rural areas.

Work in this area includes:

  • Fire Behaviour Modelling – using data from fire experiments in the field and from wildfires to improve predictive models of fire spread and intensity under given weather conditions, focussing on tussock grasslands and scrub fuels.  The research in scrub fuels is being undertaken in collaboration with CSIRO scientists at Australia’s Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre.
  • Fuel Moisture and Ignition Thresholds – improving understanding and the ability to predict drying rates in scrub fuels, and how this relates to flammability and potential for fire spread.  Initial work is focussing on gorse, and will also extend to native scrub fuels such as manuka/kanuka.
  • Grassland curing – refers to the percentage of dead material in a grassland fuel complex, critical for accurately determining fire danger levels in grassland areas of New Zealand.  This research will result in better methods to assess current and future levels of grassland fire danger, using satellite imagery, field assessments and grass growth modelling techniques. This is a collaborative project with the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre in Australia.
  • Fire Danger Rating – developing a user guide for the NZFDRS to help rural fire managers apply the system to activities such as fire season restrictions, burn permits, and wildfire readiness levels.  Other work is examining the performance of NZFDRS components in different New Zealand vegetation types.
  • Communication of Fire Danger – exploring how rural fire management agencies communicate fire danger information to the public, and how this is received and interpreted. It will lead to safer and better prepared communities through improved communication and uptake of fire danger information.