Date: 12 Aug 2009

Airborne Fire Intelligence

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Abstract

A bushfire is part of the Australian summer landscape. Over the past two decades there has been an increasing use of aircraft, both fixed and rotary wing, for water bombing and the gathering of fire intelligence. In Australia prior to 2001, the gathering of airborne fire intelligence was mostly catered for by the use of paper maps that were subject to considerable operator error, delays and risk getting the information to the incident management team. The delay and risk factors were generally caused by airborne drops over pre-determined zones, or the aircraft needing to land to supply paper maps with hand drawn fire activity information, or by verbal passing of intelligence over congested radio frequencies.

Recent years have seen an increasing use of computer based airborne mapping systems, line scanners and infrared devices and cameras. These systems can be complex to operate and require careful coordination on a state-wide basis to ensure that the various incident management teams receive timely, readily understandable and useful information. These new systems, however, enabled the relevant authorities from 2001 on to make soundly based and timely fire fighting decisions with otherwise limited resources.

This paper is based on bushfire experience gained in NSW and the ACT during the years 2001–2003. It looks at the aircraft based fire intelligence systems used and the coordination of these systems together with fire weather, predictive fire behaviour, assets under threat and local knowledge perspectives. Hopefully the work that has been undertaken will stimulate discussions as to what is best practice to fully utilise these limited and expensive tools in fire management.