Wildfire Research

We are in the process of updating our website so you will see some small changes over the next month that we hope will improve your experience through easier navigation and access to information and resources. - March 2024


Mission statement

The mission of the Fire and Atmospheric Sciences Team is to develop the science and technology needed to protect life and property, and manage fire in the landscape. Understanding how fires are likely to behave in different weather conditions, terrain and fuel types, and the factors affecting public and firefighter safety is essential to fire management and prevention.


The annual average direct impact of rural fire on New Zealand’s economy is estimated at $67 million p.a., with indirect costs estimated to be at least 2-3 times this. Climate change has the potential to increase future fire risks and impacts beyond this. On top of this, extreme fire is here, now. With 2015 and 2016 globally the warmest years on record, New Zealand is not immune to the extreme fire behaviour normally associated with Australia, North America or the Mediterranean. Recent fires in Marlborough, Hanmer, Hawke’s Bay and the Port Hills of Christchurch are a graphic warning.

Extreme fires can occur in any fire, at any time and are highly dangerous. They may be fast moving, have very large flames, high fire intensities, or other characteristics such as fire whirls or ember spotting. Current management strategies cannot suppress these fires, and New Zealand urgently needs new models, decision support tools and methods to better protect our natural environment, primary producers, vulnerable communities and taonga species.

Research capabilities

Scion’s Fire and Atmospheric Sciences Team is New Zealand's only provider of specialist fire research expertise in rural and forest landscapes.

  • Fire behaviour prediction
  • Increase community resilience to wildfire
  • Understand vegetation fire behaviour and risk
  • Modelling and observing through field trials smoke emissions, plume formation, plume transport and dispersion
  • Understanding smoke emissions from wild and prescribed fire
  • Measuring and modelling turbulent motion in complex terrain, beneath a vegetation canopy, and/or within a fire
  • Ergonomics and Human Factors of dangerous and demanding tasks

Our programme increases knowledge of fuels and fire behaviour, with a strong focus on the development and improvement of the New Zealand Fire Danger Rating System. This system assists rural fire managers to assess risk, predict the spread of fires, and manage the safety of firefighters and the public.  It also allows for the safe and effective use of fire as a land management tool for applications such as crop burning and land clearing.