Australia: government being sued for tactics used on bushfire

GavelThe government of New South Wales is being sued over their choice of firefighting tactics used on a fire in 2003 that burned through Canberra’s southwestern suburbs on January 18.

The legal proceedings have been going on for years and have advanced to the Australian Capital Territories Court of Appeal.

Below is an excerpt from the Canberra Times:

…Four people were killed, 435 injured, and 487 homes and 23 commercial and government buildings were lost.

[...]

On Thursday morning, counsel for QBE Regina Graycar criticised the approach taken to backburning near the Goodradigbee River containment line, which was being used to stop the fire spreading. Firefighters did not get time to carry out their plan to backburn near the river.

Ms Graycar said they must have known they didn’t have time to backburn before the next hot day, which is generally considered to be seven days away.
Backburning is generally needed to finish two days before the next hot day, she said.

Failing to recognise the time needed, Ms Graycar said, broke one of the basic rules of firefighting, something she described as “bushfire 101”.
The ACT Court of Appeal will hand down judgment at a later date.

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Aussies produce 1-hour special program on large fires

The Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) produced this one-hour special video program, above, about large wildfires around the world. Here is they way they describe it:

Over the past decade, there has been an alarming surge in large, uncontrollable fires across the world. We live in a time when mega-fires are reshaping landscapes in ways unprecedented in human history. Even iconic forests especially adapted to burning are being wiped out. In a climate of rising temperatures and shifting rainfall, amid debate about whether fire disasters are natural or man-made, what does the rise of mega-fires mean for life as we know it? In this Catalyst special, reporters Anja Taylor and Mark Horstman travel to opposite sides of the planet to find out. In the ‘sky islands’ of New Mexico, which have experienced frequent fire for millennia, pine forest ecosystems are suddenly being decimated by huge, tree-killing fires. In the ‘mountain islands’ of the Australian Alps, 90 percent of this 500 kilometre long bioregion has been burnt this century, as changing fire intervals over the last ten years destroy large areas of mature eucalypt forests. Ultimately this is a story about climate change, told through the prism of fire.

Gary, who first notified us about the program, said:

It features some big names from the Southwest and New Mexico. Dr. Craig Allen is internationally know as a Fire Ecologist and climate change expert, Tom Swetnam is the Tree-ring expert from U of Arizona, Bill Armstrong is the fuels expert for the Santa Fe National Forest.

If you are not sure about viewing the one hour program, here is a link to a 30-second preview. You can watch the main program here, above, or view it on YouTube.

 
Thanks and a hat tip go out to Martin and Gary.

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Australia: Victoria to purchase 78 new fire trucks

CFA engines on the Neerim Sth Fire

CFA engines on the Neerim Sth Fire, March 9, 2014. CFA photo.

An extra $17.2 million dollars from the Victorian Government in the 2014/15 budget to build dozens of new firefighting vehicles has been welcomed by Country Fire Authority (CFA). The announcement is part of a $29 million investment in 78 new trucks, including 74 medium tankers to be built over the next year.

CFA Chief Officer Euan Ferguson said the announcement would be welcomed by CFA firefighters and the communities they serve.

“These state of the art firefighting vehicles mean Victoria can claim one of the most advanced firefighting fleets in Australia,” Mr Ferguson said.

The investment comes hot on the heels of the delivery of 124 medium tankers to brigades across the state in 2012/13 at a cost of $49 million. The design and manufacture of the majority of those vehicles was done in Ballarat and Sunshine, and it’s expected most of the new fleet will again be built in Victoria.

District 8 strike team CFA

District 8 strike team, October 21, 2013. CFA photo.

“CFA is very proud to be supporting local manufacturing. It represents a huge investment into local communities,” Mr Ferguson said.

In addition to the tankers, an updated design of the heavy tanker will be added to 10 already being trialled across the state, as well as a medium pumper, breathing apparatus truck and heavy sand tanker.

Mr Ferguson said the new medium tankers had been well received by brigades around Victoria.

“These trucks can pump 900 litres of water per minute – the same as a heavy tanker and double the amount of the current medium tankers,” Mr Ferguson said. “Essentially, these fire trucks have the capabilities of a heavy tanker but are a better size for accessibility on fire grounds.”

CFA has already begun planning where the new trucks will be deployed following their expected completion around the middle of next year. CFA volunteers were instrumental in the design, testing and delivery of the medium tankers.

“We received very positive and productive feedback from more than 1,200 CFA volunteers which ensured the vehicles were the best they could be,” Mr Ferguson said.

This brings to more than 300 the number of new vehicles delivered to CFA brigades since 2011.

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Wildfire briefing, March 30, 2014

Prescribed fire smoke in Manhattan, Kansas

Prescribed fire smoke in Manhattan, Kansas, March 29, 2014. Photo by Eric Ward.

Prescribed fire smoke in the Flint Hills

In light of the discussion on Wildfire Today about prescribed fire as a tourist attraction in the Flint Hills of Kansas, Eric Ward sent us the above photo that he took Saturday afternoon in smoky Manhattan, Kansas. He explained that many of the ranchers in the area conduct extensive burning projects this time of the year in order to enhance weight gains of cattle if they plan to stock pastures in May. On days when the relative humidity and wind speed are within an acceptable range, the evidence of the burning is very visible in the atmosphere, especially if weather for the previous week or so has been bouncing between snow and red flag weather conditions, as it has this year.

Colorado report recommends contracting for air tankers and helicopters

Colorado Firefighting Air CorpsA long-awaited report about aerial firefighting by state agencies in Colorado was released Friday by the Colorado Firefighting Air Corps (CFAC). Some of the more significant recommendations include:

  • Increase the number of Single Engine Air Tankers (SEAT) on exclusive use contracts from two to four.
  • Contract for the exclusive use of four Type 3 or larger rotor-wing aircraft. (Type 3 helicopters can carry 100 to 300 gallons.)
  • Contract for the exclusive use of two Type 2 or larger air tankers. (Type 2 air tankers can carry 1,800 to 3,000 gallons). The contingency, if the State is unable to contract for two air tankers, is to contract for two helitankers, or a combination of one fixed-wing air tanker and one helitanker.

More details are at Fire Aviation.

Arizona seeks to immunize the state from liability from wildfires

A bill that was approved unanimously Tuesday by the Arizona Senate Appropriations Committee, House Bill 2343, would exempt the state and state employees from prosecution for harm resulting from the action, or inaction by state employees on state lands. Hundreds of millions of dollars in claims have been filed by the families of the 19 firefighters killed on the Yarnell Hill Fire and by property owners whose homes burned. The fire was managed by the state of Arizona in June, 2013.

Firefighters assisting with Oso landslide

Personnel that usually can be found at wildfires are helping to manage the response to the tragic landslide at Oso, Washington. We have reports that some of the resources assisting include Washington Incident Management Team #4 (a Type 2 team), miscellaneous overhead, and some Washington Department of Natural Resources chain saw teams. The IMTeam was dispatched on March 27.

New topic from “Safety Matters”

The “Safety Matters” group has released their “Topic #5″, and they are seeking input from wildland firefighters. Below is an excerpt:

…2014 marks the 20th Anniversary of South Canyon and the 38th Anniversary of Battlement Creek. Both fires fit the model of firefighters dying in a brush fuel type, on a slope, during hot and dry conditions.

The loss of the Granite Mountain Hotshots indicates that a significant accident occurs every 18 to 20 years. Is there a reoccurring cycle, and if so why? Could it be related to a cyclic turnover of firefighter culture, training and attitude? What are the thoughts of Safety Matters readers?

Bushfire season ends in New South Wales

The bushfire season has reached its official end in New South Wales.

Tribute to author Norman Maclean

The Daily Beast has reprinted an excellent essay that Pete Dexter wrote for Esquire in 1981 about Norman Maclean. It explores a side of of the author that is not revealed in his book about firefighters, Young Men and Fire. Mr. Dexter spent quite a bit of time with Mr. Maclean, who at that time was writing the final chapter. Mr. Maclean also wrote A River Runs Through It, which was made into a movie starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt. The Esperanza Fire, a book written by his son John N. Maclean, is working its way towards becoming a movie.

U.S. National Guard assists with fire in Puerto Rico

From the AP:

Puerto Rico has enlisted the U.S. National Guard to help extinguish a fire that has ravaged a forest in the island’s central region. Firefighting Chief Angel Crespo says that about 40 percent of the Modelo Forest in the town of Adjuntas has been destroyed. Authorities say they believe the fire was intentionally set and that it has consumed up to 290 acres (117 hectares). A U.S. National Guard helicopter helped dump water over the area on Friday.

Fantastic photo

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Coal mine fire under control in Victoria

Helicopter drop on Hazlewood coal fire. CFA photo.

The fire at the Hazelwood open cut coal mine that we told you about on March 5 is now under control after firefighters battled it for 29 days. It is not out, but they hope to obtain that status by this weekend if the predicted rain occurs.

It is believed the fire started when two bush fires burned close to the mine and spotted into the coal. The suspected cause of at least one of the fires is arson.

Helicopters have been used to drop water on the fire, while ground forces use sprinklers and master streams from fire engines. They have been using Class A foam from the beginning, but when experiments with compressed air foam were successful, they began using those systems from the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and a Tasmanian crew on the northern batters to smother the fire with thick foam and help reduce the amount of smoke affecting Morwell.

CFA personnel have also been using an airborne heat-detecting infrared line scanner to fly over the fire to produce a map showing firefighters where the heat still remains and where they should concentrate their efforts. Infrared mapping systems are frequently used on vegetation fires in Australia and the United States.

All of the photos are from the CFA.

Hazlewood coal fire infrared image. CFA image.

Helicopter drop on Hazlewood coal fire. CFA photo.

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