News from the Horizon 2020 project GEO-SAFE: Connecting scientists and first responders to provide modelling solutions for wildfire management in Australia and Europe

GEO-SAFE (Geospatial-based Environment for Optimisation Systems Addressing Fire Emergencies) is a four-year (2016-2020) Horizon 2020 collaborative project aimed at creating a network enabling the EU and Australia to exchange knowledge, ideas and experience , thus boosting the progress of wildfires knowledge and the related development of innovative methods for dealing efficiently with such fires. More precisely, GEO-SAFE focuses on developing the tools for setting up an integrated decision support system optimizing the resources during the response phase. In November 2019, mathematical experts in disaster risk and practitioners closely linked to humanitarian cooperation, computer science, physics and emergency management, with a long history of managing wildfires in both Australia and Europe, met at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University in Australia, to present the outcomes of the GEO-SAFE project and to highlight possible solutions to manage wildfires.


Key topics addressed at the GEO-SAFE meeting in Melbourne were: fire risk mapping; methods for wildfire prevention and mitigation; innovative solutions for fire managers; first responders and initial attack; evacuations and tools for emergency managers. In addition, the meeting hosted special sessions on: trans-disciplinary pathways for collaboration with indigenous people; research gaps and priorities to be addressed in the future; wildfire risk reduction - opportunities for international collaboration.


The results of the special session on identifying research needs and priorities (chaired by Prof. John Handmer of RMIT) are highlighted below. Research gaps are grouped under three main topics: Collaboration between science and practice; Next steps for fire modelling; Knowledge needs to improve models.


Collaboration between science and practice: The existing policy and legal framework needs an urgent re-examination. Getting information about wildfires in real time is a challenge, due to bureaucracy. The collection of data and useful information is needed to better coordinate research and drive innovation in the field of wildfires. Regarding data collection, currently data and information are fragmented and dispersed. It is hard to find case studies with all data to cover research needs. There is the need to join efforts for a coordinated global database. One of the main challenges is to integrate all of the models to develop efficient tools to help practitioners in the decision-making process.


Next steps for fire modelling: Fire models should consider the effects of suppression operations on fire progression: fire growth should be modified while suppression operations are deployed, and the resulting fire perimeter should reflect these operations when validated on the field. To understand reality we build fuel models that are simple. But sometimes the models are too simple to explain the most complex fire phenomena like energy release and the relationship of spotting and flammability thresholds.


Knowledge needed to improve models: To improve models, first there is the need for a better understanding of the fire behaviour mechanisms – e.g. generation, travelling and ignition - that drive spotting (i.e. the behaviour of a fire producing sparks or embers that are carried by the wind and which start new “spot fires” beyond the zone of direct ignition by the main fire). Smoke generation models need to integrate implications for the health of first responders. There is a lack of understanding about the energy and atmosphere thresholds that can cause a pyrocumulus cloud (also called a flammagenitus or fire cloud) to develop into a pyrocumulonimbus (PyroCb) cloud: specifically, how this phenomenon creates feedbacks with the main wildfire.


After identifying the main gaps, participants at the conference were asked to select those three gaps which they considered the most urgent. First responders are of the opinion that the research should focus primarily on operations, PyroCb and fire modelling, while researchers find that there is firstly the need to solve the issues regarding lack of data, and focus on decision-making gaps.


John Handmer, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University, Australia

 Oriol Vilalta, Jordi Vendrell, and Celia Conde, Pau Costa Foundation (PCF), Spain


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CAPTION FOR FIGURE: [ A pyrocumulonimbus (PyroCb) cloud is a type of cumulonimbus or thunder cloud that forms above a source of heat, such as a wildfire, that may cause extreme weather phenomenon, like downburst or lightning, creating extreme fire conditions for ground and aerial firefighting operations. Graphic from: ]

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