Current research programmes

Preparing New Zealand for extreme fire

A five-year (2016-2021) $8.75 million MBIE and industry-funded Extreme Fire research programme is underway. This is bringing together an international team of fire experts to undertake highly innovative research, challenging the existing understanding of fire behaviour and aiming to enable New Zealand to identify, mitigate and adapt to the threat of extreme fires.

The Extreme Fire programme has five research areas:

  1. Creating a new fire spread model – testing new theory around heat transfer at the fire front by turbulent convection processes (rather than radiative processes), using highly instrumented experimental burns in a range of vegetation fuel types.
  2. Developing innovative decision support tools – automating and linking systems for satellite and ground-based fire detection (SmartFire), fire growth prediction (Prometheus) and smoke modelling (BlueSky Framework), to provide real-time predictions to improve current and future fire response.
  3. Investigating new extreme fire prevention methods – developing new response technologies to prevent and suppress extreme fires, potentially including smart thermal sensor networks, enhanced fire fighting tools and equipment.
  4. Targeting protection and preparing communities for extreme fire – developing strategies and methods for protection of important ecosystems, assets (e.g. forestry) and communities from extreme fire.
  5. Use of fire as a land management tool – developing and presenting a ‘Prescribed Burn’ training resource, and analysis and ‘mythbusting’ of findings from a survey on use of fire as a tool in rural New Zealand

Partners/collaborators - US Forest Service, Missoula Fire Science Laboratory, University of New South Wales, San Jose State University, US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Laboratory, University of Canterbury, Lincoln University, The Nature Conservancy.

Our programme is supported by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. In addition to direct funding, we receive considerable “in-kind” support for research activities from rural fire authorities throughout the country.

RNC-NSC resilience to wildfires

Funded through the "Resilience to Nature’s Challenges" National Science Challenge (RNC-NSC), this 3-year project (2016-2019) is co-developing resilience initiatives for wildfire with communities and integrating wildfire hazard risk assessment and resilience initiatives within a multi-hazard environment.

Research components include:

  • Community resilience across hazards: Within a natural hazard environment, analysis of community resilience and future co-produced community planning as part of the RNC-Rural Kaikoura district case study.
  • Volunteering within a multi-hazard environment: Identification and design of a process to integrate traditional firefighters and non-traditional or informal volunteers in wildfire management.
  • Resilience through Wildfire lends: Working with a Maori Community in a wildfire prone environment in Northland, review and co-design community planning processes, including integration of indigenous knowledge in collaboration with the University of Alberta.
  • Wildfire Hazard indices: Modelling fire spread and developing static fire risk indices for comparison against other hazards by deriving likelihood and consequence probabilities from scenario modelling using the Promethius fire growth simulation model, and linking to infrastructure vulnerability/impacts modelling for integration into multi-hazards risks assessments.

The RNC-NSC is also an important conduit for implementing research to improve community resilience to extreme fire resulting from the MBIE Extreme Fire programme and other fire research projects.

Partners/Collaborators – Tara McGee at University of Alberta

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and through Natures Science Challenge – Resilient Rural Backbone Programme

Other projects

These major research programmes build on the past 25+ years of rural fire research in New Zealand, including previous MBIE and end-user funded projects. Recently completed or current projects include:

  • Assessment of seasonal grass curing – investigation of alternatives to visual and destructive measurements of seasonal die-off of grasses, including satellite monitoring, soil moisture measurements and grass growth model predictions.
  • Mapping of wildfire prone areas – development of methods to identify and map high fire risk areas with the potential for wildfires to impact on people and property (i.e. the rural-urban interface).
  • Improving safety at controlled burns – documentation of lessons learned from recent burn-over incidents for use in improving land manager knowledge and practices.
  • Fire risk activity triggers – development of fire danger triggers for controlling high fire risk activities in forestry and grassland areas.