27 April 2010

University of Queensland researchers are undertaking a world leading study into the prediction and subsequent modelling of urban fires.

Dr Jonathan Corcoran’s research, supported by a three-year Australian Research Council Linkage Grant, aims to enhance the response strategies of fire departments through modelling and mapping emergency service calls.

It is the first time research has been undertaken in Australia on disaggregated fire incident data to comprehensively address urban fire issues using geographical techniques.

“The study would be impossible without the on-going support and collaboration from Queensland Fire & Rescue Service (QFRS)," said Dr Corcoran, of UQ's School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Management.

"The research aims to answer whether disadvantaged areas are at an elevated risk of fire, if weather conditions and fire incidence are related, whether the risk of fire is greater on a public holiday or long weekend and whether Australia’s smoke alarm policy has affected patterns.”

Judy Newton, from QFRS said it was "very exciting" for Qld Fire and Rescue Service to be involved in this project as it had the potential to assist in a number of areas, such as planning and community education, in both the short and long term.

“While it does appear that suspicious and hoax fires have a higher density in traditionally disadvantaged neighbourhoods, they also show seasonal variation," Dr Corcoran said.

"Our ongoing research aims to develop and apply advanced mapping techniques to better understand their dynamics.”

He said it had long been clear that outdoor fires were more likely during dry conditions and residential fires were more likely to occur in winter. However, there was no clear relationship between rainfall and residential fires.

It would come as no surprise that fire risk of all incident types investigated (household, vehicle, outdoor, suspicious fires and hoax calls) increased during the school holidays. The largest increase was for outdoor fires - an extra five fires per day- which represented an increase of 28 percent.

The population of South-East Queensland is likely to grow from a 2006 total of 2.6 million to around 4.4 million by 2031 and those people are likely to be living in closer proximity to one another.

Dr Corcoran's study will examine how this growth would impact on our fire services.

Media: Dr Jonathan Corcoran (+61 7 3365 6517 or email: jj.corcoran@uq.edu.au).