Flame Dynamics and ignition modelling


The challenge

Bushfires are a natural part of Australia’s ecology. But, today, fires that once raged across unbroken grassland, burn instead through residential areas, causing significant damage to property and human life. 

Providing accurate predictions of the spread of wildland fires has long been a goal of the fire research community. As an operational tool to predict the growth of uncontrolled wildfires, the accuracy of wildland fire spread models and their ability to provide useful information in a timely manner are of paramount importance. This is particularly true from the perspective of changing wildland management practices, with strong implications for firefighters’ safety.

Despite the development of several models, the use of wildland fire spread modelling has been relatively limited operationally. Some of this stems from the fact that all models are by nature approximate, simplified versions of reality. 

Available data to initialise and parametrise these models, such as fuels, topography and weather, are also subject to large uncertainties and limited resolution, both spatially and temporally. Therefore, improving uncertainties in fire modelling can enhance our ability to predict the severity and extent of a bushfire for disaster planning, coordination and management.

The solution

We believe, with bushfires being an inevitable aspect of Australia’s landscape, there’s an urge to expand our bushfire research capabilities to undertake recognised and impactful research and to train young researchers in the fire science community. 

Our research supports the need to better understand the interactions between fire, fuel, weather and topography. Factors include rate of spread, flame height, intensity and spotting for wildfire especially those in the wildland-urban interface (WUI). 

The second course of our research is centred around bushfires that stretch into the WUI communities.  WUI fires pose significant challenges on several fronts. The moving fire perimeter can be tens of kilometres long with potentially thousands of structures at risk. 

Our research aims to develop: 

  • experimental investigation on the effect of “Fuel Bed Structure” on controlling heat transfer mechanisms in wind-driven surface fire 
  • flow visualisation of wind-driven fire spread
  • fire spread models including pyrolysis modelling, smoldering and ignition
  • flame dynamics modelling (including flame heat transfer, pool fires and fire-induced flow)
  • fire risk analysis and fire safety design (including performance-based design, fire detection, smoke control, and bushfire codes and standards)
  • material flammability and toxicity (including fire retardants and small-scale testing)
  • risk assessment and risk-reduction tools based on wildland fuels. 

The impact 

Bushfire modelling research at UNSW Canberra focuses on the dynamics of fire and its interactions with the built and natural environment, fire safety engineering and firefighting technology to quantify the behaviour of fire and means to reduce the impact of fire on people, property and the environment. Our team of experts has developed significant research capabilities in: 

  • WUI fire risk exposure metrics
  • predicting the spread of fires in WUI communities
  • assessment of fire performance of structures and communities.

Our Fire Fighting protective gears design team enables advances in firefighter safety, fire ground operations, and effectiveness of the fire service.

The team also develops and applies technology, measurements and standards, and improves the understanding of the behaviour, prevention and control of fires to enhance firefighting operations and equipment, fire suppression, fire investigations and disaster response.


When considering how best to protect lives and properties from wildfire damage, the first step should always be early bushfire mitigation.  

The following steps have been identified to help communities become more resilient:

  1. Understanding the key challenges and opportunities for the integration of urban planning and emergency management for improved bushfire hazard mitigation
  2. Urban and Regional Planning Practices and Mechanisms for Bushfire Mitigation including reduction of structures’ vulnerability to fire and embers in WUI. 
“Nearly one-half of Australians live in regions with a low to moderate level of disaster resilience,”

Bushfire & Natural Hazards CRC, 2020

“Bushfires tearing through Australia in 2019 and 2020 (Black Summer fires) killed at least 33 people and burnt more than 19 million hectares of land.
It is feared that a billion animals have perished, nearly 3000 homes have been burnt down and thousands took to beaches for refuge.” 

EARTH.ORG: Deena Robinson and Felix Leung


Related people and partners

Senior Lecturer - Mechanical Engineering Maryam Ghodrat
Senior Lecturer - Mechanical Engineering
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Facilities Coordinator Harald Kleine
Facilities Coordinator
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Lecturer Krishna Talluru Murali
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Lecturer and Safety WHS Coordinator Matthias Kramer
Lecturer and Safety WHS Coordinator
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Mechanical Engineering Program Coordinator Juan Pablo Escobedo-Diaz
Mechanical Engineering Program Coordinator
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Senior Lecturer Murat Tahtali
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Collaborators and partners from the School of Science at UNSW Canberra

  • Professor Jason J. Sharples: UNSW Bushfire - Applied and Industrial Mathematics, Computational Science Initiative
  • Dr. Duncan Sutherland: School of Science, UNSW Canberra
    • Australian Resilience Corps
    • Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water
    • NSW Department of Planning and Environment
    • Department of Transport and Main Roads
    • National Computational Infrastructure
    • Resilience NSW
    • NSW Rural Fire Service
    • University of Melbourne
    • University of Queensland
    • Western Sydney University
    • University of Sydney 
    • Worcester Polytechnic Institute, USA 
    • University of California, Berkeley 
    • Imperial College of London 
    • KU Leuven, Belgium 
    • Tohoku University 
    • Aalto University 
    • Emona Instruments Pty Ltd
    • NETZSCH Analyzing & Testing 
    • Bestech Australia
    • Maydai.ai
    • Fire Code Tech