'Firesticks' and forest fuel

 

Summer bushfires burning across southern Australia are an annual reminder that forests make fuel and store this fire hazard on their floors.

The measurement of forest fuel loads was a new challenge for MEA’s engineers. The tender process brought some opportunities for the sort of head-scratching that always accompanies imponderable questions such as “how much shading of solar panels can be expected at a still-unknown site?” Dappled sunlight on forest floors makes operating weather stations down there an uncertain business. So we did the only thing possible under these circumstances - we over-sized both solar panels and batteries. [Off-the-wall suggestions recommending nuclear, propane gas or fuel-cell power supplies somehow didn’t stack up …]

But the fun part came with the ‘firestick’ sensors (more correctly, ‘fire weather sensors’).

These sensors are used to compute ‘fuel load’ on the forest floor.

Data from these unique weather stations streams automatically into the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, where it is shaped and formatted to be compatible with their ‘Fireweb’ database and website. ‘Fireweb’ makes available all sorts of interconnected data sources to Victorian fire-fighters in near real-time.

Firestick Weather Station in Victoria
Firestick Weather Station near Mt Baw Baw in Victoria

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