How to prevent further fires in peatlands? To answer this question and to reduce the impacts of burning, our fire researchers are first asking ‘why’ and ‘how’ peat fires occur.

Our fire research seeks to understand the socio-economic and biophysical drivers of peatland and peat fires, and how these can be better managed to reduce unwanted fire and smoke haze and the associated greenhouse gas emissions. Our researchers have been examining the underlying causes, behaviour and movement of peatland and peat fires. Having a better understanding of both the biophysical as well as the social causes and drivers of peat fires will lead to the formulation and implementation of better methods to manage peatlands, and help to improve fire detection and early warning systems for preventing and controlling fire in peatlands.

Every fire is unique and an experienced fire researcher can read the story of a fire just by looking at the fire scene. These are skills that are developed over time but this ability to ‘read’ a fire can be enhanced by training. The Peat Fire Monitoring Field Training delivered by this component saw fire researchers taking a detailed field approach through ‘Fire Scene Evaluation’. Using this methodology allows for the accurate and consistent collection of fire monitoring data in the field. This data may be fed into a national-level database and analyzed quantifiably. This was achieved through equipping the researchers with highly specific knowledge and tools based on a methodology developed by the UMCES–IPB NASA Peat Fire Research Project to explore the biophysical and social causes of fire ignition, spread and its transition from the surface into the peat.

Fire scene evaluations were performed in different peat locations and land cover types during the four-year study period in selected areas within OKI and Pulang Pisau Districts in South Sumatra and Central Kalimantan respectively. The analysed data will help develop an understanding of how fire prevention and management techniques affect the resulting fire outputs such as the extent of area burned, and the associated carbon emissions. Data collection has comprised of: location and access points to the fire; total area burned; fuel loads; land tenure, usage and access rights; fire ignition and control; authorities involved; scientific data; and peatfire behavior.

A fire danger rating system (FDRS) can be used for both predicting the likelihood and risk of fire occurring and aiding in fire suppression. Countries use FDRSs to quantify the potential of a fire starting, spreading and causing damage based on certain weather indexes, including relative humidity, rainfall, windspeed, forest fuel loads and temperature. In 1999, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) identified the need for an Indonesia and Malaysia FDRS after major fire events at the time.  Since February 2002, an FDRS has been used by the Indonesian Geophysics, Climatology and Meteorology Agency to quantify potentially severe peatland wildfires.

The Government of Indonesia (GOI) has an existing Fire Danger Rating System (FDRS), which has evolved over two decades through the combined efforts of multiple institutions. Its accuracy and resolution have been progressively improved but it has not been designed to predict high-risk peat fires. Gambut Kita has examined the history of Indonesia’s existing FDRS in order to elicit opportunities for its further development to better target high-risk peat fires. To achieve this objective, CSIRO and ANU fire scientists in association with fire scientists in FOERDIA in Bogor have been analysing and documenting the proposed peat fire danger rating systems and identifying the usefulness and accuracy of the approaches used while also making suggested improvements to current versions of the different peat fire danger rating systems developed by BMKG, MOEF fire department, Universities, donor projects and communities.

The current Indonesian Fire Danger Rating System (FDRS) is used at the provincial level and national level, but cannot be used effectively at sub-district and/or village level. Currently, the ability of local governments to provide peat fire information is limited to surface fires, and based on weather data from a very small number of weather stations. Data gathered by the Gambut Kita project provides more accurate measurements on fine fuels and incorporates better understanding of diurnal changes in peat moisture in the surface layers. Such data will improve the ability of local governments to inform their sub-districts on the most detailed aspects of peat fire danger.

The Peat Fire Danger Rating System (PFDRS) under development can be used by community fire-fighters, local governments and national agencies. The local community is expected to put the PFRDS to use through the Fire Care Community (Masyarakat Peduli Api, MPA) groups established by government. Other users will include village and sub-district governments as well as a number of national government agencies, especially the fire-fighting brigades (Manggala Agni); Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (Badan Pengkajian dan Penerapan Teknologi, BPPT); Ministry of Environment and Forestry (MOEF) (Kementerian Lingkungan Hidup dan Kehutanan, KLHK); and Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics (Badan Meteorologi, Klimatologi dan Geofisika, BMKG).