OroraTech & Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service: Preserving Tasmania’s Ecological and Cultural Heritage with Remote Sensing

For four fire seasons, the OroraTech team has partnered with three key organizations in Tasmania to protect people, property, and values from bushfires. Led by the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service (TPWS) and joined by the Tasmania Fire Service and Sustainable Timber Tasmania, OroraTech helps to detect fires as early as possible and provides valuable information to the firefighting crews on the ground.

The Role of Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service in Bushfire Management

“Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service manages 3.1 million hectares of reserve land and bushfire suppression is a major role each summer,” says Richard Dakin, TPWS Fire Operations Manager. “Our goal is to protect communities and high-value, irreplaceable values like natural and cultural heritage. We also need to work as a team with other agencies to protect state assets such as hydroelectric infrastructure since hydroelectric power is used widely across the state. The most important mitigation effort  is the early initial notification so the teams can get to the fires when they are small and keep them small.”

A firefighter looks over the view of the area after a fire. Photo Credit: Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service

Given the impact of climate change and the unpredictable climate patterns, the local teams are placing emphasis on post-fire assessments – tracking timelines, extracting key learnings, and conducting end-of-season operational briefings.

Tackling Main Bushfire Challenges in Tasmania

Given Tasmania’s geographical position, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service faces unique challenges that can only be effectively tackled through the use of satellite technologies.

Challenge 1: Remote landscape

Tasmania’s remoteness and rugged terrain, coupled with limited infrastructure and mobile phone coverage, make it difficult to access early information about fires from members of the public. “Communication in many parts of land we manage is limited to satellite phones only, making it difficult to communicate, for example, smoke plumes or other signs of fire, especially in areas without nearby communities,” explains Richard.

After lightning events, Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service and their partners rely mainly on spotter flights to detect fires. This involves dispatching fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters to search for signs of smoke in the landscape, but this approach proves to be only partially effective. To enhance smoke detection capabilities, fixed cameras are increasingly being deployed to cover specific areas of the landscape, although their coverage remains limited.

Challenge 2: Climate change

Within the last ten years, Tasmania’s challenging landscape has been exposed to the dual threats of a changing climate and an increase in dry lightning strikes, which have significantly raised the risk of devastating bushfires. Some seasons have brought extremely dry conditions, resulting in major bushfires in both 2016 and 2019.

Areal view over the Bonnet Bay fire as of January 8, 2022. Photo Credit: Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service

This season, Richard and his team responded to lightning on New Year’s Eve by organizing a detection flight on January 1, 2023, in the Bonnet Bay area. Although the fire became visible only six days after the lightning strike, it took 19 days to extinguish and ultimately affected an area of 100 hectares.

Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service Turns to OroraTech for Early Detection

Tasmania’s challenging landscape and changing climate have made early wildfire detection a top priority for Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service. To improve their capabilities, they started looking for new solutions.

“We needed a tool that could help us detect wildfires early,” explains Richard. After conducting extensive research on space data, TPWS enlisted the expertise of Dave Taylor, a seasoned planner with 30 years of experience in fire management, to investigate potential solutions for early wildfire detection. Taylor concluded that OroraTech was a perfect fit for their needs, aligning with the organization’s focus on early detection and rapid response.

“While other tools provide satellite data as well, what sets OroraTech apart is its dynamic start-up culture, excellent customer liaison team, and commitment to meeting our needs. OroraTech team even came to Australia to meet us in person!” concludes Richard.

OroraTech team meets Tasmania Parks and Wildfire team in Australia, March 2023. From right to left: Richard Dakin, Camilo Pabón, Kathy Edwards, Eddie Staier, Konstantin Pieper, and Chris Emms.

The Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service views satellite detection as a rapidly expanding tool, and they sought to be part of the process of developing the platform and growing the fleet of satellites.

Another key advantage of OroraTech according to TPWS is its user-friendly platform and the ability to send notifications across a range of channels, which the team lacked previously. Richard noted that they used to spend significant amounts of time searching for hotspots without receiving notifications outside of regular hours and overnight.

The most useful features of OroraTech's Wildfire Solution

The Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service has found OroraTech’s Wildfire Solution to be an invaluable tool, with its powerful features providing critical support for their work. Specifically, the following features have proven to be particularly useful:

  • The normalized fire potential (NFP) feature, which helps to identify false positives and increase confidence in fire detection, ultimately saving crews and aircraft resources by avoiding searching for false fires.  
  • Notification systems via SMS and WhatsApp, which enable fire risk assessment even outside of regular business hours.
  • A smooth onboarding process to the platform, allowing for quick and easy adoption by the team. 
  • A user-friendly interface, which makes it simple for users to navigate the platform and access critical information.
  • Up-to-date, concise training provided to all Tasmanian fire agencies, ensuring that everyone is well-equipped to use the platform effectively.

OroraTech's role in fire containment

OroraTech’s technology has played a crucial role in detecting multiple fires as first detections, enabling the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service as well as Tasmania Fire Service and Sustainable Timber Tasmania to tackle fires early on and contain them with the help of aircraft and firefighters. The importance of early detection cannot be overstated, as any fire that remains uncontrolled in the first 24 hours can quickly escalate into a larger blaze, leading to higher costs and risks.

Moreover, OroraTech’s data served as a double-check, providing a heightened level of confidence that enables the swift deployment of aircraft and resources to tackle fires efficiently.

The burnt area detected via Wildfire Solution after the Bonnet Bay Fire in Tasmania, January 2023

Future Outlook: Preparing for More Intense Fire Seasons in Tasmania

Richard Dakin warns that the fire seasons on average will likely become increasingly intense and last longer, resulting in more devastating bushfires.  Although Tasmania has experienced catastrophic fires in the past, such as the 1967 bushfires, recent years have seen an upward trend, with severe fires occurring in 2012, 2016, and 2019. 

Despite this, Mr. Dakin remains optimistic, highlighting the potential of technological advancements in combating the fires, such as on-ground cameras, improved lightning detection, use of aircraft, better forecasting and modeling, as well as thermal data from space. These developments will be able to help the local authorities to better prepare for the impact of climate change on fire seasons.

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