Published: Alexandra Eildon Marysville Standard

Australian company, Fire Watch Australia, has successfully deployed the first network of bushfire detection sensors for the Commonwealth Government’s recently announced trial of bushfire detection technology during the 2010 bushfire season.

The trial of Fire Watch is being funded by the federal government after the Black Saturday bushfires. Following the fires, the Federal Member for McEwen, Fran Bailey investigated early detection bushfire systems and technologies. A total of 160 of the 173 bushfire deaths occurred in Ms Bailey’s electorate.

Ms Bailey suggested the federal government trial the Fire Watch technology in the Otways region from January to April 2010.

Founded on aerospace technology developed for the NASA Mars Pathfinder mission, the Fire Watch system incorporates an optical sensor, which boasts enhanced spectral sensitivity with near-infrared (NIR) sensing capabilities.

This permits detection across a wide range of visible light wavelength, 480 to 1200nm day or night, far superior to that of the human eye, 400 to 750nm.

Furthermore, the sensor’s extremely high grey-scale resolution enables it to distinguish between more thanl6,000 shades of grey, critical functionality for detecting the first signs of smoke and differentiating between smoke, cloud and dust.

In operation, each Fire- Watch sensor rotates through 360 degrees every four to eight minutes, detecting smoke at distances of up to 40 kilometres. This year in Germany where the system has been installed for the past eight years, a fire was detected at a distance of 72 kilometres from the tower.

Once smoke or fire is detected, an alarm with a corresponding image is transmitted to the control room. Here, the image is rapidly assessed and the resultant information disseminated to the fire agencies, allowing them to commence their fire suppression activities.

Each control room workstation can monitor up to five towers covering a potential area of more than 3,500 square kilometres.

The Australian trial of the FireWatch system will have sensors at four locations in Victoria: Mount Pomdon, Crowes Lookout, Peters Hill and Mount Cowley, with all information being fed back to a control room at the Deakin University campus at Burwood.

More than 200 systems have been installed worldwide and are now operating or are being trialled in France, Portugal, Estonia, Czech Republic, Greece, Lithuania and Holland, the US and Mexico.

The Australian trials will include both live observation of the Otway Ranges and a series of controlled bum experiments managed by the CSIRO in the Tumut area.

The Fire Watch system went live on 15 February and the trial will run through until the end of April or May this year. The Victorian and New South Wales governments are involved in the coordination and logistics of the trials.