Deakin Communicating Science 2016

EES 200/101

And All I Saw Was Screaming Colour


Bushfire. The word that makes my heart drop, my stomach jump into my throat, my mind fill with fear and sorrow.

Bushfires are a predominant part of life in Australia for many. For those who haven’t been affected themselves they surely will know someone who has been. I have lived through the Black Saturday bushfires which tore through my, and many others’ communities, and left scars on the land and on the people it affected.

Unfortunately before the last decade bushfires have been something of an enigma and had been left unexplored on the scientific stage. In recent years however there has been an overwhelming shift and a substantial industry has developed around bushfire research, and explaining bushfire behaviour.

Since the dreadful events of Black Saturday there has been a flurry of campaigns and programs to get this information out to the public. Like most things in life it takes a disastrous event to catalyse this reaction. But regardless of the means by which we arrived here, the scientific research being done is a wonderful thing and its worth is none short of priceless.

One of the products of this is the Country Fire Authority (CFA) Fire Ready Kit (x).

Fire Ready Kit

This is one of the finer documents that has ever been produced, this document is the complete, all you need to know guide for bushfires. Many of the figures I use are found in this document as they are so far superior to anything else that is or has been available.

 The Basics

fire triangle

Source: Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) Bushfire Factsheet

The intensity and severity of a bushfire are influenced by…


When a fire is approaching it’s rate of spread or speed is influenced by the topography

Lets make a comparison between a fire traveling up hill and down hill. Which one will be faster?

Uphill is the answer.

When a fire is traveling uphill the front of the fire is tilted with the wind that is driving the fire. as the angle increases of the ground beneath the flames are coming into contact with increasingly more fuel. It will ignite more the the debris and thus spread faster through the vegetation.


Source: CFA Fire Ready Kit

For every 10 degrees increase in slope angle the rate of fire spread is doubled. In the same fashion for every 10 degrees decrease in slope angle the rate of fire spread halves.


I have put together a video which looks at the some of the aspects of Climate and Weather which have influences on bushfire risk and behaviour.

[Original Prezi here]


This video I put together uns through fuel, which is for the majority made up of the vegetation in an area.

[Original Prezi here]

That sums up the basic workings of a fire and some of the factors influencing it.

To be continued…



From prezi video; Weather and Climate:

Ruthrof, K. X., et al. (2016). “How drought-induced forest die-off alters microclimate and increases fuel loadings and fire potentials.” International Journal of Wildland Fire: -.

From prezi video; Fuel:

DPAW (2013, 3 September 2014). “Fuel loads and fire intensity.” Retrieved  14 May 2016.



2 comments on “And All I Saw Was Screaming Colour

  1. reneebisscheroux
    May 8, 2016

    I was lucky enough to not experience Black Saturday to its full extent. We were close enough only to have the lingering smoke. Since that time, I’ve moved suburbs to Warrandyte, one of the most dangerous areas for bushfires in the world. Shortly after I joined my local CFA as a firefighter.
    Since then, I’ve been heavily involved in Community Safety, and represent both my brigade as a volunteer, and CFA as a staff member for fire safety information and emergency bushfire management.
    It’s always great to see any sort of fire safety being communicated, though there are some other things you might like to consider for your post.

    While Black Saturday was the most significant fire in terms of loss of lives and property, they weren’t the only fires to create change. Of the other two major Victorian Bushfires, Black Friday (1939) and Ash Wednesday (1983), a Royal Commission was conducted for Black Friday, and an official report written by the Bushfire Review Committee for the Ash Wednesday Fires, both giving recommendations for change.

    CFA’s ‘Fire Ready Kit’ is an interesting resource. While it has been quite useful in the past, CFA’s current view is that this booklet is best used when you are able to have a lengthy discussion with someone, rather than just handing it out to anyone who walks by; groups such as Community Fireguard groups, or members of the public who attend a Fire Ready Information Session. This is because CFA have found that without an in-depth explanation from a CFA member, a lot of the information is getting misinterpreted. As well as that, because the document is so wordy and long, a lot of our audience was lost simply because it was too much effort in an age when attention spans are limited. To combat this, CFA have released a condensed version of this document, called ‘Your Guide to Survival’, which summarises the main points, as well as including important information from several of the other brochures. You can find a copy here, if you’re interested:

    One of the influences of fire behaviour that you neglected to mention, is the weather created by the fire itself. As the heat of the fire rises and heats the air above it, the air rises faster. To replace this hot air, cooler air is drawn towards the fire, creating a massive column of smoke that can be seen for kilometres around. This convection column often carries pieces of fuel (embers) that are still burning. These embers are carried up and away from the fire, creating spot fires. These spot fires are drawn into the main fire when it starts to draw in more air around it. As the moisture keeps getting drawn in, and up, a big fire has the potential to create a storm cloud above itself. When this cloud mixes with the ash and smoke in extreme conditions, a pyrocumulonimbus fire cloud forms, resulting in violent thunderstorms. These storms can produce both rain and lightning; however, as the rain falls it can be evaporated by the heat of the fire, and the lightning can cause spot fires.
    Another aspect of fire weather, is the local weather conditions. The wind at the top of a hill will behave differently than at the bottom of a hill. Similarly, the wind will follow the path of any valleys, pushing the fire through that path, regardless of the direction the wind is going at the top of the hill.

    Topography is a big influence on how a fire burns, but not just by the slope of the terrain. Another important factor that comes into this is aspect. Due to the position of the sun, the northern and western aspects are warmer, and therefore drier, and more easy to burn than the southern and eastern aspects.

    A lot of my knowledge comes from CFA’s ‘Bushfire Firefighter’ Manual, which is the basis of the recruit course. Any knowledge after that has come from ‘on the job’ training, and from my work with CFA.
    We will always learn from fire. And Victoria is always going to have fires, it’s a necessary part of our landscape. If you have any questions at all, I’d be more than happy to help you out, fire safety is a huge passion of mine.
    I enjoyed the read, thank you.


    • catfraser29
      May 8, 2016

      I love this!

      Thank you so much for commenting.

      (I have so many things I’m trying to shove into this word limit its crazy, I’ve got a bunch of things written up that I am working on fitting into my three blogs)

      I wish more than anything I could straight up be a part of the cfa but my health is too problematic for me to be able to really be an asset. So instead of going on with my mates I’d do the charity fundraising. Red balloon day was my jam.

      I absolutely agree, I did an extended essay as an assessment piece once and my statement was ‘Have Humans caused an increase in the intensity and prevalence of bushfires in Victoria’ and I was focusing on the major fires that have occurred in Victoria and my timeline started in 1850 because anything prior really didn’t have the resource availability that worked for my deadline. So the first major fire I looked at was 1851 Black Thursday. Interestingly though it was the most severe when you look at the number of deaths caused as a proportion of the population it was 0.0194% where as Black Friday had 0.0035% and Black Saturday 0.0032%. As well as it burnt the largest area it’s been the biggest fire on record as far as I can tell for Victoria.

      Black Thursday: 15 deaths 5 million Ha burnt
      Black Friday: 71 deaths 2 million Ha burnt
      Black Saturday: 173 deaths 0.40 million Ha burnt

      [Just to have the numbers in front of me so I don’t make a mistake]

      However, this is purely just numbers for the sake of a report and we can’t really allow ourselves to put a value on human lives. Which is why I discussed the raw data as well, which as you know Black Saturday was a tragedy that no one will forget anytime soon.

      When I first started researching the royal commission reports were an absolute gold mine. They are incredible, my favourite is the 11th progress commission report [ ] which was released in 1900 and covered the late 1800s, it’s pretty fascinating reading through it. One of the things that I wasn’t expecting was how much human induced ignition played a role. Sparks from the trains catching the debris along the tracks, people using sulphur, campfires the list goes on. And as each progress report came out they were tackling new human sources of ignition as they had worked to resolve the previous causes. So no doubt there has definitely been overwhelming progress.

      And that’s not to mention how far the fire fighting has come, both in the understanding of fire behaviour and the technology being used.

      I can see how the fire ready kit wouldn’t work as a hand out pamphlet no, but at home (I live near Seymour) and I remember the cfa old dogs doing the rounds to peoples properties and sitting and having a chat. I’m fairly sure it was either just before bushfire season after Black Saturday, because he was telling us stories about his experience, and some of the other guys he worked with. And then there was lots talk about how to improve things around the house, and a lot of discussion about how to update our bushfire plan.

      It is probably my perception that there has been more moving and shaking about bushfire safety since 2009

      I absolutely would never forget about embers, how could I. I am covering that with the fuel section (which I’m adding to this post as a video like the weather and climate. Same for topo I’ve got that in another of the blogs I’m not going to put in much about the smoke I have a small piece looking at how smoke can be an indicator for the type of fuel etc)

      I also briefly mention a book that was written by Vic Jurskis, this is what have included:

      A particularly interesting take on this is Vic Jurskis, author of ‘Firestick ecology: Fairdinkum science in plain English’
      He looks at the idea of disturbances in the ecosystem and whether a disturbance is natural or unnatural.
      His assertions are that;
      When Aborigines first arrived and began the regular and widespread use of low intensity fire was an unnatural disturbance.
      However after 40,000 years of this, it became the norm, a natural disturbance as a new balance of nature had been established.
      Then when the Europeans rocked up, and suppressed the use of fire in this manner. And did and are continuing to do their utmost to suppress fire across the board. Jurskis asserts this is unnatural and has resulted in damaging mega fires and sick ecosystems

      I’d love to hear your thoughts on this


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