Fuel bed and viewing section of the CSIRO Pyrotron with reflections of observers

Fuel bed and viewing section of the CSIRO Pyrotron with reflections of observers.

CSIRO Pyrotron: A National Bushfire Research Facility

A national research facility testing combustion and spread of bushfires to improve fire safety and fire-fighting for Australian communities

  • 24 November 2008 | Updated 24 July 2014

A bushfire wind tunnel

The CSIRO Pyrotron is a 25 metre long fire-proof wind tunnel with a working section for conducting experiments and a glass observation area.

The Pyrotron is used to study the combustion and spread of fires in bushfire fuel under controlled conditions.

The facility enables close observation of combustion mechanisms not possible in the field. It is used to study:

  • the mechanisms by which bushfires spread
  • thermokinetics - the chemistry of combustion - of bushfires
  • fuel consumption, emissions and residues under different burning conditions.

Expected research outcomes

This national research facility is building upon CSIRO’s 60 years of experience with large-scale field experiments. It is enhancing research on bushfire behaviour by enabling observations of flame propagation and behaviour not possible in field experiments due to fire intensity, heat, lack of access and safety concerns.

The Pyrotron is assisting with:

"The Pyrotron is used to study the combustion and spread of fires in bushfire fuel under controlled conditions.

  • better understanding of the physical processes involved in the behaviour and spread of bushfires under a range of conditions
  • better models of fire behaviour to improve effectiveness and safety of fire-fighting
  • improved design and execution of large-scale field experiments
  • better understanding of likely emissions from bushfires in different fuel and burning conditions
  • improved knowledge about the likely behaviour of bushfires under future climate change.

Technical details

The Pyrotron was officially opened in October 2008. It was constructed at the CSIRO’s workshop at Black Mountain, Canberra in the Australian Capital Territory, and cost A$190 000 which was funded by the CSIRO.

Features of the tunnel:

  • dimensions:
    • 25 m long
    • 4 m² in cross section
    • constructed of 3 mm aluminium
    • working section constructed of 5 mm aluminium
  • wind:
    • 2 tonne fan capable of shifting 22 cubic metres of air a second
    • variable wind speed of up to 5.5 metres per second, equivalent to wind speed of around 60 kilometres per hour in the open
  • fuel bed:
    • 1.5 m wide by 4.8 m long
    • lined with ceramic tiles
    • LPG line ignition source
    • toughened-glass viewing doors for observing the fire
    • artificially illuminated, so that the fuel will be visible against the light from flames
    • holds up to 15 kg of dry fuel spread to around 2 cm deep, being roughly equivalent to an average forest fuel load of 25 tonnes/ha
    • can accommodate different fuel types, such as small logs, leaves, forest litter or grasses
  • instrumentation and observations:
    • a wide range of sensors in the working section ensure correct and accurate measurement
    • data is captured by a multi-channel data acquisition system that provides real-time output of sensors to a multi-display system
    • a high definition video camera outside the glass viewing doors captures details of combustion
    • additional sensors can be places throughout the Pyrotron to measure other aspects of combustion and emissions
  • other details:
    • relies upon ambient temperature and humidity, meaning that experiments can be conducted on days of high heat and low humidity to observe fire behaviour in extreme conditions
    • experiments last about 15 to 20 minutes and yield about as much smoke as a wood-fired backyard barbecue.

Accessing the facility for research

The CSIRO Pyrotron is a national research facility open to bushfire researchers from around Australia and overseas.

Please contact us for more information at andrew.sullivan@csiro.au

Find out more about Bushfires research.