Canberra Times, Ben Houston

Proponents of a high-tech smoke-detection system want a trial of it extended to include the ACT in the coming bushfire season.

The system, based on technology developed by the German Aerospace Institute for a NASA space mission in the 1990s, uses tower-based digital sensors to seek out colour associated with smoke.

Coupled with software making use of sophisticated mathematical algorithms, the system is able to detect smoke day and night.
The technology is being pushed by FireWatch Australia, which has its distribution rights for the Asia-Pacific region.

FireWatch Australia managing director David Goodrich said, “If [it] sees the characteristic movement of water molecules in smoke, it gets a tick in the box.

“And if it detects one of the 16,384 shades of the colour grey that relate to smoke and not cloud, smoke and not mist, then it gets another tick in the box and it sends an automatic alert to the FireWatch control station.”

The technology has been trialled in the Otway Ranges in Victoria and around Tumut. Mr Goodrich has called on the Federal Government to extend the trial nationally. Consulting firm Sinclair Knight Mertz has been engaged to identify areas most at risk of bushfire in each state and territory.

He hoped an expanded trial would be conducted in seven locations across the country.

“Our proposal … says we would like to extend the existing footprint in Tumut into the ACT and have a FireWatch network cell which consists of five FireWatch cameras and one control room covering … southern NSW and the entire ACT,” he said.

Mr Goodrich believed such a cell could cover “all of Tumut, all of the state forests’ plantations around that area, plus the entire ACT for the next fire season”.

“We need a decision by the Federal Government in the next couple of weeks so that orders can be placed, project management systems put in place [and] plans put in place in order to acquire the tower infrastructure.”

Federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland, who is responsible for emergency management, said yesterday a “fire detection camera trial” was held this year.

“The trial was conducted in cooperation with the Victorian and NSW governments in order to analyse the effectiveness of the camera detection technology against other warning systems such as calls to triple zero and spotters in fire towers,” he said.

“The outcomes of the trial are being evaluated by the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre with involvement of the CSIRO.

“The Government will await the findings of this evaluation and will work in cooperation with the states and territories in relation to decisions on this capability.”