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New app to help predict bushfires

University of Sunshine Coast researchers have designed an app to help predict the likelihood of bushfires and minimise their devastating effects.

The University has been awarded Federal Government grant of almost $500,000 to design and implement the app, called NOBURN (National Bush Fire Resilience
Network).

The university will encourage "citizen scientists" from around the country, including people who hike, work and camp in forest areas, to use the app to collect vital data in the form of photos
and forest fuel samples.

The project will be led by USC Professors Mark Brown and Paul Salmon.

Prof Brown says data gathered will be matched with satellite imagery and then used to train AI systems to predict the probability, severity and burn area of potential
bushfires.

"While naturally occurring bushfires cannot be avoided, there is an opportunity with this project to predict their likelihood and implement strategies to minimise their impact on the
environment, property and life,” he says.

“Over 10 million hectares were burnt and over 2,000 homes were destroyed in the 2019-20 fire season, and the impact on agriculture, forestry and tourism industries was devastating."

The Sunshine Coast is sadly familiar with the devastating impact bushfires can have on the community after the Peregian Beach bushfires in 2018 ravaged the idyllic coastal suburb.

The blaze forced the evacuation of the entire community and it took two days and more than 200 firefighters to contain the fire.

Prof Salmon says the NOBURN project will result in new knowledge which will be shared with key stakeholders including fire authorities, forest professionals, landowners, key
government representatives, and most importantly residents living in fire-prone areas.

“Before a fire, the outputs can indicate high-risk bushfire areas and support community preparation for disaster resilience,” he says.

“Once there is an ignition, the AI model can quickly and more accurately predict the direction, extent, severity and boundary of the fire, allowing targeted and strategic interventions."