Smartphones used to fight wildfires

21 June 2012

Spades and hoses are not the only things that rural firefighters can use to fight wildfires; thanks to Crown Research Institute Scion, they can also use their smartphones.

Fire researchers at Scion have developed an Android-based smart phone application that helps fire managers to predict fire behaviour.

Fire managers can input wind speed, relative humidity, slope, and other factors into their phone and the software calculates how hot and how fast a fire is likely to spread in different vegetation types.

Senior fire scientist, Grant Pearce says this tool is based on 20 years of research into how fire is likely to behave in New Zealand conditions.

“We used data collected from experimental burns and wildfires to develop tools that help fire managers to make decisions about how best to tackle any given fire,” he explains.

“These tools started out as paper-based lookup tables and field manuals. Over time, we evolved these into software applications, which are now designed to run on smartphones.”

Grant says that fire managers were keen to have everything at their fingertips in an emergency.

“People used to just use their phones for calling 111. Now firefighters can use them to calculate a fire’s rate of spread, its fire intensity, flame length and a whole lot of other useful measures for managing the fire fighting.”

The software was presented to fire agencies at the 4th Fire Research Workshop in Rotorua on 14-15 June.   

The development of an Apple-based application will begin following the completion of the android version.  

Development of this smart phone application was funded by the Forest and Rural Fire Association of New Zealand (FRFANZ), with production of the underlying fire behaviour models funded by the Ministry for Science and Innovation (MSI) and rural fire end-user organisations.

Rural Fire Research. Lake Taylor experimental burn. 
A high-res. version of this image is available here.