We should be proud of our Aussie bush heritage and as a firefighter, I’m impressed at the way we have dealt with bush fires in the past.

I am also concerned about our massive fuel loads but in terms of detection and suppression, I pose the following question:

With modern technology on hand, why can’t we locate fires earlier and get onto them sooner?

It is a “no brainer” that a fire is best dealt with if we catch it in its early stages. The idea of early detection and early suppression has vastly reduced the frequency and severity of structural fires in Australia but can this principle be applied to the bush?

The idea of using fire towers to provide early detection and to help locate fires in Australia dates back to the early 1900s.

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In those early times, fire towers or lookouts were often created by clearing the top of a hill or by cutting the top out of a tree and adding a platform. Access to these Fire Lookout Trees was made using pegs or spikes driven into the side of the tree for the fire watch / observer to climb.

The need for early detection was recognised by the authorities in those early days and a tower network was gradually established. I’m not certain that we are using this network of towers well enough and I don’t believe that we have nearly enough of them.

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  1. Could we use more fire tower?
  2. Are they manned appropriately?
  3. Should we invest in some type of automated scanning technologies?

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) has invested time and money on Remote Area Fire Teams (RAFT) and they need to be congratulated for doing so because it embraces the concept of early suppression but perhaps we need to look more closely at earlier detection.

Let’s have a look at an early fire lookout tower… tree

The Dave Evans Fire Lookout Tree

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The Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree – photos source: parks.dpaw.wa.gov.au/site/dave-evans-bi-centennial-tree

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The Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree was originally a fire lookout tree. Along with the Diamond and Gloucester Tree, it is one of three lookouts which remain climbable in the Warren National Park, Pemberton area of Western Australia.

The Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree is the tallest of the three fire lookout trees that are open to the public in the Pemberton area.

Climbing this tree is not for the faint-hearted. However, those who do venture up the 165 pegs to the top will be rewarded with 360-degree views of the karri forest and glimpses of the Yeagarup Dunes and coast beyond.

The Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree in the Warren National Park is a 15 minute drive from the Pemberton township, and off the Old Vasse Road.

Fire Scanning and Detection Technologies

These technologies monitor the landscape using rotating sensors to collect data and can be mounted on existing telecommunications masts or fire towers.

The data is analysed and activates an alarm if conditions that resemble a fire are recognised.

These systems do not need to see flames, the optical sensors detect the difference between shades of colour and they use mathematical algorithms to look for the characteristics of smoke.

In many instances these systems can tell the difference between bushfire smoke, fog, cloud or mist.

It is important that once bushfire smoke has been detected, the system alerts the Control Room, where further analysis by a human is conducted. A decision about the detection is made and crews are dispatched as soon as possible (the sooner the better).

Interesting Links

The Fire Lookout Trees of Australia

Pemberton’s Climbing Trees

The Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree

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One thought on “Fire Lookout Trees – Early Detection from the Early 1900s

  • December 26, 2015 at 4:48 pm
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    Hi, this is impressive to hear about. We agree that early detection is vital to stop fires from escalating. You can support the Australian National Firewatch Early Bushfire Detection Network by visiting the website calling for fair and proper Stage 2 trials of the technology used by NASA to detect fires and relay the information within 6 minutes.

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