Rural fire research

Rural and forest environments are vulnerable to fire. Understanding how fires are likely to behave in different weather conditions, terrain and fuel types, and factors affecting public and firefighter safety, is essential to fire management and prevention. Scion is New Zealand’s only provider of rural fire research and has been supporting rural fire authorities since 1992.

To ensure our research is relevant, practical and tailored to New Zealand conditions we work closely with:

  • National Rural Fire Authority
  • NZ Fire Service Commission
  • NZ Forest Owners’ Association
  • Department of Conservation
  • NZ Defence Force
  • Territorial authorities
  • Federated Farmers of New Zealand
  • CSIRO (Australia).
Find Scion’s Rural Fire Research Publications

The science of fire

A greater understanding of fire behaviour under various conditions, fuel types, and a range of fire management tools specifically developed for New Zealand conditions is helping New Zealand fire managers to reduce wildfire risk and protect life and property.

Our research supports the ‘4 Rs’ of fire risk management in New Zealand.

Reduction or understanding and predicting fire behaviour

This includes:

  • Fuel modelling to predict biomass and fuel loads based on New Zealand vegetation
  • Understanding fire weather conditions and the effects of climate change on fire danger
  • Analysing fire statistics and causes and identifying trends that can be used as a basis for prevention planning
  • Analysing fire risk from human causes and identifying ways to reduce risk.


Improving the ability of New Zealand’s fire agencies to manage fire and prepare for emergencies. This includes:

  • Developing and improving predictive fire behaviour models
  • Predicting drying rates and flammability of scrub fuels such as gorse and wilding pines
  • Assessing dead material in grasslands (grassland curing) to determine fire danger
  • Fire danger rating guides and seasonal activity restrictions
  • Improving fire danger communications.


Practices and tools that enable fire agencies to respond to wildfires, and safeguard the safety of their firefighters and the community. Our research includes:

  • Developing fitness guidelines to ensure firefighters are safe and adequately equipped
  • Developing and expanding the fire behaviour toolkit software for fire agencies
  • Maintaining and updating the New Zealand Fire Behaviour Prediction manual
  • Developing spatial fire growth models for New Zealand fuel types.


Our research focusses on understanding and learning from previous fire events to lessen the impact of, and improve the recovery process from major wildfires allowing communities to build resilience. This includes:

  • Evaluating relevant national and international research  and social recovery practices following wildfires and other natural disasters.
  • Making recommendations on best practices to lessen the social impact and improve the recovery process following significant wildfires in New Zealand.


Tara Strand, Research Leader, Rural Fire Research
Grant Pearce, Senior Fire Scientist

Wilding pine controlled burns

Self-seeding, introduced conifers, or wilding pines (wildings) have reached weed status in many areas of New Zealand. With fuel loading increasing as wildings grow, and with spraying being the main form of control, wildings can pose a serious fire hazard.

Our Rural Fire Research Team carried out a series of experimental burns on sprayed and unsprayed young wilding lodgepole pines (Pinus contorta) in 2015/2016.

Data from the burns, fuel loadings, including fire behaviour, fire spread rates and smoke behaviour are being used to update fire behaviour models and prediction tools, and to ascertain the potential of fire as a wilding control tool.

Read Wilding pines go up in flames in the name of science [Radio NZ] or listen to the Radio NZ report and interview with Grant Pearce

Watch a TVNZ One News clip on the burns


Tara Strand, Research Leader, Rural Fire Research
Grant Pearce, Senior Fire Scientist

Preparing New Zealand for extreme fire

Extreme fires are fierce, move quickly and behave in unpredictable ways. Any fire can be come extreme at any time. Extreme fires in New Zealand are expected to become frequent with climate change.

Scion has been awarded $8.75 million over 5 years by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment 2016 Endeavour Fund to develop the new management strategies, decision support and models needed to fight extreme fires.

The Scion team, along with local and international collaborators will be testing theories around the mechanisms that cause heat transfer and contribute to turbulence at flame fronts.

Port Hills fire, February 2017

The Christchurch Port Hills fire met the definition of an extreme fire. It escalated suddenly, spread rapidly and with high intensity, changed directions abruptly, fire whirls and a fire tornado was reported; but above all, it was unpredictable.

Scion fire scientists supported the response to the fire with robust science. The Prometheus fire growth simulation model was used to predict fire behaviour and evaluate potential breakout scenarios. Estimated times for fire spread, and associated fire intensity and flame length were used to assist the incident management team develop the fire attack strategies, determine resource needs and ensure fire-fighter and public safety, including lifting of evacuation cordons.

Listen to:

Read how science supported the response to the fire


Tara Strand, Research Leader, Rural Fire Research
Grant Pearce, Senior Fire Scientist

Tools and services for managing fire

A range of tools and guidelines that are widely used by fire managers to make effective decisions regarding firefighter and community safety have been developed by our fire scientists.

New Zealand fire behaviour prediction manual

Up-to-date knowledge about predicting fire behaviour in New Zealand, including sections on wind speed, fire weather index, fuel loads, rate of spread, intensity and growth.

Download the manual [pdf]

New Zealand fire behaviour toolkit

A software package incorporating the fuel and fire behaviour models developed by Scion's Rural Fire Research group. The package includes the Fire Behaviour Calculator, Fire Behaviour Worksheet, Firebreak Effectiveness and Fire Intensity/Flame Length calculators, Fire Behaviour Rules of Thumb and Resource Productivity guide.

Download the software [exe]

Download the NZ Fire Behaviour Toolkit User Guide [pdf]

Prometheus fire growth simulation model

Prometheus enables fire authorities to determine the likely spread and impact a wildfire can have on the rural landscape based on fuel, topography and weather conditions. We have adapted this Canadian wildland fire growth simulation model for use in New Zealand. Outputs are compatible with Geographic Information Systems.

Prometheus can be used to develop suppression strategies during a wildfire that take firefighter and public safety into account. It can be used as a planning tool by simulating ‘what if’ scenarios. Prometheus is also widely used as a post-fire assessment tool, to study the effectiveness of suppression operations and values saved.

Download the software free. Please read the important installation instructions before running.

Additional software also needs to be installed.

If training is required contact the rural fire research team for more information.

Fire behaviour app

A smartphone application based on the Fire Behaviour Toolkit calculator is free to download for both Android and Apple devices. The app makes it easier for fire managers and landowners to predict fire behaviour in the field using mobile devices. It can be used to calculate single scenarios, or alternative scenarios using ‘phases’.

Read about the smartphone app

Download the fire behaviour calculator from Google Play store (Android) or the App Store in iTunes (Apple).

The app has been developed by Scion and Haumohio, and supported by the Forest and Rural Fire Association of New Zealand (FFRANZ) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment MBIE).

Field guide to New Zealand fuels

A descriptive and visual technical guide to New Zealand fuel types to help users select appropriate fuel models for fire behaviour predictions. The guide details the six major fuel classes, and their fire behaviour and rates of spread under various scenarios.

The guide is also available as a field guide insert for the Fire Behaviour Prediction Manual.

Download the guide [pdf]

Flammability of native plant species

This guide classes native plant species by their flammability. Homeowners can reduce the danger from wildfires by replacing the highly flammable vegetation near their homes, with low flammability species.

Download the guide [pdf]

Fire weather index tables for New Zealand (3rd edition)

This is the third edition of tables for calculating the six standard components of the Fire Weather Index System.

Download the tables [pdf]

Fire behaviour forms


We provide fire behaviour training in conjunction with the National Rural Fire Authority. Our courses cover fire behaviour from a basic understanding of combustion, to the highly complex interactions of fuel, topography and atmosphere.

The training is suited to rural fire personnel from the Department of Conservation, district councils, the New Zealand Fire Service, forest companies, and New Zealand Defence Force.

Two courses currently offered are the Intermediate Fire Behaviour Course and the Fire Behaviour Forecasting Course. Contact the National Rural Fire Authority for further information.