ACT News


Pyrotron unlocks the secrets of fire for CSIRO

The fire moves across the bed of eucalypt fuel, accelerating, burning every leaf and twig in its path.

At the CSIRO in Yarralumla, researchers are using their Pyrotron, a combustion wind tunnel, to give a unique insight into how fire behaves in the Australian bush.

The results of the research will provide valuable information to fire fighters about how much time they have to attack a fire directly with water before it becomes a threat.

Research group leader Andrew Sullivan said the CSIRO built the Pyrotron in 2008, but this was the first year scientists had the monitoring equipment to enable modelling to be done in it.

''In the field, we've been totally dependent on whether the weather is suitable,'' he said. ''If it gets too hot, we can't burn, if it's raining, we can't burn. The Pyrotron just opens up the window of opportunities of actually conducting experiments.''

On Friday, principal research scientist Jim Gould set a 4.8-metre bed of twigs and leaves alight.


The fire took six minutes to cover the first two metres, then just one to cover the next two.

In January, the researchers will start modelling more severe fire conditions, close to those of the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria in 2009 which killed 173 people.

Dr Sullivan said it was dangerous to light and observe fires in the bush on high risk days, so there was a gap in scientific knowledge on how fires spread in very hot, dry conditions.

''We're hoping we'll have a preliminary model of the rate of growth of fire before the end of next year,'' he said.