Trial of early forest fire detection technology decreases response times and increases safety

A new camera-based fire detection system has been trialed in Tasmania for the first time by forest management company SFM Environmental Solutions.

The Firehawk system, which provides real time fire detection allowing for a rapid aerial-based response to potentially threatening bushfire ignitions, has been used successfully this fire season on Lenah Estate (formally Norske Skog), a 18,000 Hectare softwood plantation located in Tasmania’s Derwent Valley.

The technology delivers infrared heat detection across 360-degree views for a 30 kilometer radius from each fire tower located on Lenah Estate. Every two minutes the camera system compares a new image with the previous image. If a change is detected (such as visible smoke) Firehawk will alert the person  monitoring the system who will then initiate an immediate response.

“Early detection allows for an early response, meaning we have the best chance to keep fires small before they become big and possibly out of control. We can detect a minimal amount of smoke and respond early with both helicopter and ground-based firefighting resources,” said SFM Director, David Wise.

The new technology provides a way to see through smoke and locate fires, taking away the risk of manned towers and minimising error.

“One of the great things about this technology is it can see through smoke. This is a really effective way to look for new ignitions, especially if conditions are similar to 2019 where there was a lot of smoke in the atmosphere and limited visibility,” Mr Wise said.

David Bowman, Professor of Pyrogeography and Fire Science at the University of Tasmania, said that rapid attack is a critical approach to preventing bushfires from becoming uncontrollable and destructive.

“Using ground-based sensor technology is a massive improvement from the older methods of having people based in fire lookout towers,” Professor Bowman said.

“As the fire season lengthens due to climate change, we need to improve and adapt. The Firehawk is a fantastic example of using new technologies to improve fire suppression capacity.”

Fire detection information can then be shared with the Tasmanian Fire Service, Sustainable Timber Tasmania (STT) and Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Services. A spokesperson from STT said that enhancing fire detection and management strategies is a shared priority for the industry.

“Tasmania’s forest managers are investing in smart technology for the future and SFM’s recent undertaking to trial innovative fire detection and suppression technology is a notable and valuable example. We are watching SFM’s trials and adoption of new methods with great interest and support,” the STT spokesperson said.

SFM Director, David Wise

A secondary benefit of the technology is faster and more accurate weather reporting. SFM have erected their own weather stations to use alongside the Bureau of Meteorology to help calculate fire danger ratings for various areas within the estate.

“Automation of weather reporting that has traditionally been done by the manned towers will provide us with a faster and safer access to more complete data set, as towers are only manned on high fire danger days,” Mr Wise said.

“Firehawk technology could provide Tasmania with a more cost-effective and efficient fire detection and mitigation methodology.”

Lenah Estate is owned by Australian-based international forestry investor New Forests, on behalf of its Australian New Zealand Forest Fund 3, which appointed SFM to manage Lenah Estate’s timber plantation assets in 2020. SFM has a strong track record of successfully implementing technology advancements in the forestry sector, having implemented the first underwater harvesting operation in Australia – Hydrowood.

SFM has also been running a successful Firehawk trial in the Green Triangle (Mt Gambier region) hope to expand the trial over the next two years.

See Firehawk in action here.