GIS sparks Cape Gantheaume bushfire strategy

Jan 11, 2012

South Australia's public land management agency has turned to cutting-edge geospatial technology to help produce the first fire management plan for the state's most popular national park.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) fire strategy for Cape Gantheaume, Kangaroo Island identifies fire danger zones and provides an official guide for bushfire prevention measures for the area, which was decimated by a series blazes only four years ago.

DENR Spatial Information and Geographic Information System (GIS) Advisor Iain Malcolm said the agency had joined forces with the nation's leading location intelligence specialists Esri Australia to develop the award-winning mapping application that supports the fire management plan.

"DENR looks after public land, so direct consultation and engagement with the community on park management is crucial to bushfire control," Mr Malcolm said.

"Using Esri Australia's advanced GIS technology, we created Fire Management Maps – an interactive, online mapping application used to present the plan for public comment.

“Previously, the public would have had to view our plan physically using paper-based maps. Fire Management Maps has moved that process online and added extra functions, such as being able to focus on particular zones, save individualised versions and bookmark areas of interest.”

Cape Gantheaume hosts South Australia’s most popular nature-based tourism attraction, Seal Bay, which brings in around 105,000 visitors annually, and is also home to several species of plants and animals that are either endangered or found only on the island.

Mr Malcolm said a fire management plan was essential to protect the tourists, locals, flora and fauna in the area, which has a long history of major bushfires.

“The area is prone to lightning strikes and in 2007 several fires which started with a strike destroyed around a third of the very area this plan addresses,” Mr Malcolm said.

“The bushfire risk throughout the cape is therefore quite high and it's essential for us to use new technologies to develop strategic and coordinated measures which mitigate the dangers.”

The success of Fire Management Maps has been acknowledged widely across the geospatial industry, with the initiative recently awarded a South Australian Spatial Excellence Award in the Spatially Enabled Government category.

Esri Australia SA Business Manager David Trengove said the new system provided a way for DENR to communicate large volumes of information relating to fires and fire risk in a user-friendly format for public consumption.

“By leveraging GIS technology, Fire Management Maps gives users access to five switchable map views which cover local terrain and infrastructure, biodiversity, fire history, fire management, and implementation,” Mr Trengove said.

“By plotting this data on a map, the technology translates it into a meaningful, universal language that transcends culture and education – so every member of the community can understand the situation and risk.

“It has an easy-to-use, intuitive interface so users can quickly access the information they require.  

“For example, you can quickly find a region through the search function, or can use the ‘identify’ tool to view detailed information about features on the map, such as where and when planned burns are scheduled.”

Since 2003, DENR has been producing fire management plans for fire-prone regions across the state, with the Cape Gantheaume plan the fourteenth to be completed.

Plans for the Central Eyre Peninsula, Northern Flinders Ranges, South Para and the Alinytjara Wilurara region in the state’s far north-west are currently being prepared, while nine more plans have been scheduled.

The department is currently working through public submissions for the Cape Gantheaume plan, with the finalised strategy expected to be released early next month.

Mr Malcolm said fire plans were regularly updated to reflect community feedback, so harnessing public opinion was an important part of meeting DENR’s goals for safer national parks and reserves.

“Sometimes we are made aware of existing projects that will influence our fire management strategies, such as revegetation or wildlife projects,” Mr Malcolm said.

“The adoption of Esri Australia’s GIS technology has ultimately made it easier for the public to contribute to the development of Cape Gantheaume's fire management plan, and other plans of similar design.

“Access to public and stakeholder knowledge ensures we develop plans that minimise the risk to all South Australians, their property and the environment.”

Mr Trengove said the system DENR have created will serve as a strong foundation for the ongoing development of the technology in this space. 

“In the not-too-distant future, I envisage that residents and visitors in proximity to danger zones will be able to access real-time fire incident updates on their smartphones.

“This technology will enhance early warning systems – optimising efforts to save lives and property.”