Bushfire prediction tool can simulate dangerous ember showers and fire-generated thunderstorms

On January 6 and 7, 2016, a dark, thick and turning plume of smoke grew over the West Australian towns of Waroona and Yarloop.

Known as a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, it brought thunderstorms, lightning and strong winds.

What followed were extreme ember attacks, which went on to destroy the town of Yarloop and kill two people.

The severe behaviours of pyrocumulonimbus clouds and ember attacks have actually made a few of Australia’s biggest bushfires substantially even worse — not just due to the volatility of these phenomena, however due to the fact that they are hard to anticipate.

But after years of having a hard time to anticipate bushfire conditions, scientists think they have actually constructed a valuable tool which might suppress the effect of these occasions.

Spark Operational, established by the CSIRO and the National Council for Fire and Emergency Services (AFAC), is a simulator that produces forecasts, data and visualisations of bushfire spread.


Similar to other simulators, it integrates particular and localised weather condition details with topography, fuel loads, greenery type and on-the-ground fire behaviour details to simulate and anticipate the course of a fire over 6 to 12 hours.

But Spark has the capability to quickly include brand-new advancements in science as they take place.

And with the increasing scale of bushfires in Australia, scientists and firemens understand they require every tool at their disposal to assist safeguard lives and home from a few of the more severe fire behaviours of ember attacks and fire-generated thunderstorms.

Ember showers a significant danger

Fire-produced thunderstorms kind by extreme updrafts from the heat increasing from the fire — comparable to the method a thunderstorm establishes.

The threat is these thunderstorms can produce abrupt and really effective downbursts of wind that can rapidly work up fire behaviour, consisting of area fires and lightning.

A diagram of a firestorm: Fire triggers an updraft, which produces strong gusty winds. A pyrocumulonimbus cloud types, which can snuff out the fire however might trigger more lightning.(



Ember attacks are typically connected to the effective downbursts from the pyrocumulonimbus clouds, however have actually likewise been understood to establish when there are gusty, unpredictable winds conditions in specific topography.

DFES WA rural fire department executive Mark Bowen stated ember showers had actually triggered fires to broaden substantially, so forecasting their probability and spread was necessary.

“In the past, we’ve had examples of fires in Sawyers Valley heading south-west and then jumping the Mundaring Weir — a whole dam — to start a fire on the other side,” he stated.

The platform has actually been under advancement for 6 years, with Phase 1 of the rollout having actually simply started.

A log smoulders after a bushfire rushed through Yarloop
A log smoulders after a bushfire hurried through Yarloop and the surrounding location, January 9 2016.(

Supplied: DFES


CSIRO Spark job lead Mahesh Prakash stated while existing fire simulators were valuable, there were restrictions to their energy.

Dr Prakash stated researchers typically had a hard time to include brand-new prediction research study into existing simulators, and had actually been stymied by the absence of a consistent national platform.

“The main thing is the consistency across all states,” he stated.

“There is [also] a lot of scientists in CSIRO and universities and BoM who are working on new fuel models and ember transport models.

“Spark will have the ability to bring those into functional practice rather that the regular procedure it requires to get it onto functional systems.”

Accuracy of weather report increased

There are currently ember transport models used in simulators, but Dr Prakash said they relied on empirical data.

A “more robust”, physics-based ember transportation design is being trialled on the Spark platform, through cooperation with the Bureau of Meteorology.

Two men from DFES stand in building between desks
Jackson Parker, from DFES in WA, and Mark Bowen say fire simulators have provided huge benefits in battling fires(

ABC: Tyne Logan


DFES WA director of bushfire technical services Jackson Parker said WA’s simulation tool, Aurora, had been a “game-changer” in fire prediction since its introduction a decade ago.

But he said Spark’s additional functionalities — particularly its ember transport model and potential to incorporate atmospheric effects, like fire-generated thunderstorms — would bring benefits.

Mr Parker said having a second modelling option would also strengthen the accuracy of forecasters’ predictions.

Fire storms a research challenge

Reliable models for predicting fire-generated thunderstorms are still in development, with several research organisations trying to better understand the physics behind their occurrence.

Bureau of Meteorology fire, heatwave & air quality team leader Bradley Santos said there were a few factors that made the storms so difficult to predict.

“The initially one is that it needs an interaction of the weather condition and the fire and there’s likewise the complicating aspect of the regional variations of the weather condition due to topography and fuel,” he stated.

A huge smoke cloud over a large landscape of hills and trees.
Spark is aimed at helping predict fire clouds like this one in Queensland’s Darling Downs region in the midst of the Ravensbourne bushfire.(

Supplied: 17 Mile Cottage


While research has helped shed light on fire-generated thunderstorms in the past, there continues to be a significant gap around creating a prediction model that can tell if and when they will occur.

Spark will not be able to predict firestorms until there is sufficient research to support it, but Dr Prakash said the simulator would eventually be able to incorporate it — something other models could not do as quickly and easily.

“You’ve got research study jobs that take 3 to 5 years to reach a point where it can be operationalised, or sometimes, that research study simply remains there,” he said.

“Whereas now what we’ve got is a system that self equates that research study into something that can be operationalised.”

The technology’s advancement has actually gotten financing from the Minderoo Foundation and is anticipated to end up being completely functional, with its extra performances, in the next two-to-three years.

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