International award for bushfire scientist

April 16 / 180

Kevin Tolhurst at left, receiving his Ember Award
Kevin Tolhurst at left, receiving his Ember Award

Associate Professor Kevin Tolhurst has been awarded the International Association of Wildland Fire’s (IAWF) Ember Award at the 5th Forest Fire and Fuels Conference, which was jointly held in Portland, Oregon, and Melbourne, Australia.

The award recognises sustained and excellent research contributions to wildland fire science, innovative solutions to important wildland fire challenges, and effective and appropriate communication of wildland fire science and research results.

Associate Professor Tolhurst, from the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, has been a leading Australian researcher and commentator on bushfire research, monitoring and preparedness for decades. With his colleague Derek Chan he developed the Phoenix RAPIDFIRE bushfire modelling and prediction software that has been used to successfully predict the path of dangerous bushfires, and to better organise planned burns.

IAWF is the peak body for wildland fire (what we in Australia call bushfire) science in the world.

Associate Professor Tolhurst said the award, which has only been awarded six times since 2006, came as quite a surprise.

“I’m the first academic-type person to be awarded it,” he said.

“Previously it was awarded to researchers working for government agencies, including legends in the field like Dick Rothermul from the United States Forest Service, and Charlie Wagner from the Canadian Forest Service.”

The Awards Nominating Committee cited Phoenix RAPIDFIRE as Associate Professor Tolhurst’s most important contribution to wildland fire science, noting that it is now regularly used for operations and planning in eastern Australia.

“Kevin has been very successful in bridging research and operations, and on top of producing excellent scientific research, he has used his knowledge to provide support to Fire and Land Management agencies,” the committee said.

“This has led to better outcomes to communities across Australia. He has developed a professional reputation by providing expert advice on fire behaviour and fire suppression strategies at major bushfires like the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.”

Associate Professor Tolhurst said the award was a testament to how the School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, and the University as a whole, engages and collaborates with government agencies and the wider public to do relevant research that is then applied to real world problems.

Read more about Associate Professor Tolhurst’s research on Pursuit.

Story by Daryl Holland.

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