Issue 27, January - March 2004

Website links the remote manager

Peter Thompson

The North Australian Fire Information website, developed by Ecobyte Systems, Tropical Savannas CRC and northern fire managers, has now been in use for some months. Savanna Links speaks to Peter Th­om­pson, (pictured left) co­ord­inator for the Cape York Sus­tainable Fire Management Project, on how the site has been received.

In Arnhem Land Andrew Edwards, Dean Yibarbuk and Otto Campion look at maps printed out from the website.

The website is being used throughout northern Australia. In Arnhem Land Andrew Edwards, Dean Yibarbuk and Otto Campion look at maps printed out from the website.
Photo: Jeremy Russell-Smith

What has been the impact of the North Australian Fire Information [NAFI] site?

The uptake by the landowners has been very good. We’re getting positive feedback from all of the people that we’re talking to—I don’t think there’s too many that have had any negative comments at all, and they’re certainly looking forward to its future development.

We were using a website of our own and manually uploading information to that website and getting it to people that way. It’s certainly much more efficient for us to supply information through the NAFI process and it’s a much better service.

What are people using the site for mostly?

To check on the location of fires of interest to them; knowing where that fire is, whether it’s a threat to them and the time frame for it to become a threat. Once it is established as a threat, is the fire moving faster in one particular direction than the other? Where will it come to first, are there things in place that can be used as fire breaks—like for example burnt country, or whether it is being held on a particular side of a river or creek or road—that seems to be of prime importance to them, and particularly if the fire does jump across that barrier then they want to know about it as quickly as possible.

I understand it’s already saved a homestead?

Yes it certainly has. That particular instance was a property that’s not always manned. The manager was 200 km away and [after several calls tracking him down] I let him know there was a fire in close proximity and looked to be heading towards the homestead. He beat a hasty retreat back home and burnt around the property to save it.

Whether or not the house or property would have been actually burnt is not certain, but there certainly was a risk. The thing is that people are moving around the country all the time and basically the site gives people a lot better chance of getting back to their homesteads and dealing with the issues—they could be away for a week and suddenly find that it’s all burnt.

What if you haven’t used the Internet much before?

People that have been less exposed to computer programs and the Internet find it quite easy to use as well. I just returned from a trip through Mount Isa showing a couple of people [how to do it] and they were able to very quickly pick it up and work out what the information was meaning to them.

What is the improvement they’d most like to see?

Access to the actual satellite images themselves—a picture is worth a thousand words really. The hotspot information as it is, is indicating where the approximate locations of the fires are, but it doesn’t show the extent of the fires at any one time. What they are interested in is not only where the hotspots are, but what has been burnt to that minute or the latest available image.

So the hotspots won’t necessarily pick up all fires that are burning?

They don't, often the hotspot information picks up only part of the fire, but the actual image shows the whole extent of the fire. This may be because a satellite has dropped out.

Do you think that this web-based technology generally could have a broader impact on land management in northern Australia?

I think that’s almost a certainty. It is a matter of providing the right information at the right scale and at the right cost and people will use it. I think there’s been an enormous amount of interest to date, and a lot of people are looking at opportunities beyond fire, and particularly things like ground cover and biomass and those issues that could have a lot to do with the economics of cattle operations, or any operations. — Interview Peter Jacklyn


Mr Peter Thompson
Program Manager
Cape York Peninsula Development Association
Tel: 07 4053 2856

Fax: 07 4053 2942

PO Box 646N