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Rights: The University of Waikato
Published 3 November 2009

In this video clip, Stuart Anderson from the Rural Fire Research Group, Scion, talks about Project FuSE (Fire in Scrub Experiments), which was carried out in collaboration with scientists in Australia from CSIRO and the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).

The main aim was to better understand and predict fire behaviour in scrub vegetation. New Zealand experiments focused on how fires develop and behave on slopes in scrub fuels.


Project FuSE was a big project that we were working on in collaboration with scientists in Australia. FuSE itself is an acronym for Fire in Scrub Experiments. The main aim of Project FuSE is actually to better understand and predict fire behaviour in scrub vegetation, scrub fuels. The work that has been undertaken has been through ourselves here in New Zealand – Scion – with support from the different fire agencies.

New Zealand experiments that we did here was particularly to look at how fires develop and how they behave on slopes and scrub fuels. The real benefit of doing the research in the field is you are obviously doing it under real world conditions and you can measure the weather and the wind and the fuel moisture and fire behaviour all on site, rather than simulated type of conditions in a laboratory environment, which are not always representative of conditions in the open in the field.

We are still in the process of really analysing the data and doing all the modelling at the moment, but we already have already noticed that fires in scrub fuels are very different to the likes of forest fuels. They will develop rapidly, so you can have one day where you really struggle to ignite them and get them to burn. A reasonably minor change in conditions the next day, you can light those fires again and they will develop rapidly and take off and burn in a really high intensity under extreme type conditions.

One of the other main findings that we found is the interaction of wind and slope in those fuels in steep terrain, and that’s been really interesting because the mainstream thinking around fire on slope is that, whenever you have a slope, it will have a major influence on the fire, and it will drive the fire up the slope rapidly. What we have found with our experiments is that wind, and not necessarily a strong wind, can have a major influence on how the fire burns up the slope. A relatively minor change in the wind direction can then start to drive the fire across the slope and not up it.

What we have seen with some of our experiments is that the wind actually can become more important than the effect of the slope, even in reasonably steep terrain. And that’s important from a firefighter safety and fire management point of view to actually understand how fickle the direction and the burn pattern of the fire can be in that sort of terrain under those conditions. It doesn't take much for the fire to start burning in a completely different direction and potentially put people at risk.

Bushfire CRC, Australia