A new national fire danger warning system will be rolled out across Victoria this week after it was decided the current ratings were too confusing for people when a blaze threatened.
The new system will reduce the number of risk levels from six to four. Using improved scientific knowledge on fuel types and weather conditions, it will provide more accurate fire forecasts in summer.
A new fire behaviour index, published by the Bureau of Meteorology, will provide a 100-point scale of potential fire behaviour based on fuel and weather conditions. It will categorise the risk as either moderate, high, extreme, or catastrophic. At all other times, it will operate on a “no rating” basis, meaning people won’t be required to take any action to protect their safety.
Each category will require residents in affected areas to take a different course of action, from preparing a fire plan during moderate conditions, to taking action to protect their life and property in the event of a catastrophic blaze.
Unlike the old system, which based predictions on only two fuel types, the new ratings will be based on eight different Australian vegetation fuel types: forest, grassland, savanna, spinifex, shrubland, mallee heath, button grass and pine. All vegetation types, except spinifex and button grass, are found in Victoria.
The system will also provide longer-term outlooks for emergency services about what fire behaviour might be like months ahead of time and will be used to inform decisions such as fire bans or burn-offs.
The changes were informed by the experience of the 2019-20 bushfire season. They will come into effect Australia-wide on September 1, providing a single warning system across all states and territories.
Forest Fire Management Victoria chief fire officer Chris Hardman said Victoria was among the most bushfire-prone areas in the world and would benefit from the new system.
“It provides government and industry with better decision-making tools and builds a truly national system,” Hardman said. “Fires do not respect boundaries. The establishment of this national system will make a really significant improvement to how we communicate what the particular risks are at any given time to the community.”