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Holy smoke! New camera-based fire detection systems

30 July 2023
In the face of a climate likely to become hotter and drier, and with bushfires continuing to pose a significant threat, a variety of forestry-related research initiatives are underway across Australia.

As an industry, forestry is particularly vulnerable to bushfire threat, with the associated risks having the potential to affect plantation companies, native forest managers, wood processors and manufacturers in a variety of ways. A recent episode of FWPA’s WoodChat podcast series focused on various research projects aimed at increasing the industry’s capacity to minimise the impacts of bushfires.

One of the four interviewees featured in the episode was David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science at the University of Tasmania. Professor Bowman shared details of a sophisticated fire detection tool known as FireHawk, which was trialled by SFM on Lenah Estate in Tasmania, as part of its own broad and ongoing efforts and commitment to working with fire.

SFM has a strong reputation for implementing technological advancements in Tasmania’s forestry sector, of which FireHawk is just one example. Another example trialled during a more recent fire season was ForestWatch. This ultimately superseded FireHawk due to its ability to offer increased client-facing information and content, demonstrating SFM’s ongoing commitment to embracing and testing the very latest technologies.

Both FireHawk and ForestWatch are camera-based fire detection systems that have the potential to enhance fire management practices, improve the protection of assets, and safeguard the broader community. Each camera incorporates a 360-degree rotation combining high-definition imaging systems with purpose-built image processing software.

ForestWatch uses mathematical and image processing algorithms to optically scan wide areas and detect the earliest signs of smoke. Every 100 seconds, the camera takes a new image and compares it with the previous image. Where a change is detected, such as visible smoke, the person monitoring the system will receive an alert and can initiate a speedy response.

“The ForestWatch technology is essentially the 21st century version of a fire tower,” Prof. Bowman said. “It was understood very early on that identifying fires in the landscape was critical step in fire management. Building lookouts, with people getting up early in the morning during the summer months and scanning the horizon into the evening, recording the distance and angle to any observed fire, was a primitive means of fire detection.

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Source: FWPA

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