Australian fire officials on Sunday warned that residents of New South Wales are facing the worst wildfire conditions in more than 40 years. Already more than 200 homes have been destroyed and another 120 damaged. One man has died so far trying to protect his property. The weather forecast for Wednesday is even more severe.
The last time firefighters faced a situation like this was in the late 1960s.
Monday some areas received lightning with little or no rain.
Assistant police commissioner Alan Clarke said mandatory evacuation orders would be enforced in some areas, describing the risk as “far more extreme” than in past fires.
“Police will be doing forced evacuations if the risk is necessary,” Clarke told reporters.
“At the end of the day we hope we have buildings standing, but if we don’t have buildings standing we don’t want bodies in them.”
The typical wildfire season in Australia is from December through February, but this year firefighters are having to deal with numerous large fires weeks earlier than normal. The contracts for large Erickson Air-Crane helicopters that can carry 2,650 gallons of water were not yet in effect but two of the ships were rushed into service to assist firefighters.
One of the largest fires is the State Mine Fire about 70 km northwest of Sydney between Lithgow and Bilpin which as burned 42,751 hectares (105,000 acres). It is likely to merge with the New York Road/Mt. Victoria Fire just to the south, which is 2,017 hectares (5,000 acres).
The new Prime Minister of Australia, in office for a month, apparently is not your ordinary chief of state. During the recent rash of bushfires in New South Wales, Tony Abbott worked a night shift helping back burn near Bilpinwith with his Davidson Fire Service Brigade from Sydney’s Warringah Pittwater Rural Fire District. Mr. Abbott has been a volunteer with the Rural Fire Service Brigade for 13 years and is qualified as a specialist breathing apparatus operator, chainsaw operator, and tanker driver.
There are reports that the Prime Minister’s firefighting activities have been a challenge for his Australian Federal Police security detail charged with his protection.
In addition to serving as a firefighter, Mr. Abbott in the past has volunteered as a teacher in remote Aboriginal Communities. Before he was elected he promised he would continue to live one week a year in similar communities after becoming Prime Minister.
The NSW premier, Barry O’Farrell, said that it would be a miracle if there was no loss of life. Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, warned that several people were likely to have been killed if the estimate of hundreds of properties destroyed proved to be true, as historically an average of one life has been lost for every 17 houses.
These fires are following an unusually early start to the Australian fire season last month, well ahead of their summer which normally reintroduces fires to the landscape.
One of the fires spread from Lithgow towards the Blue Mountains, running more than 25km (15 miles) and burning over 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres) of bushland.
Kelly pointed out that some of the names of places in Australia, such as Warrumbungle National Park, can be interesting. I agree, and in search of a few more I perused a list of the names of this season’s fires on the New South Wales Rural Fire Service web site. Here are some that I noticed:
The Wambelong Fire has raged across 39,007 hectares (93,388 acres) in New South Wales (NSW) burning through Warrumbungle National Park and other lands west of Coonabarabran.
NSW Rural Fire Service Building Impact Assessment Teams have confirmed 33 structures in the Timor Road area have been destroyed, although this number is likely to change as crews continue their assessments. More than 50 outbuildings have also burned, as well as a large number of livestock and farm machinery.
Approximately five structures at the Siding Spring Observatory complex have been damaged or destroyed by the fire, including the visitor center and the lodge used as accommodations for visiting researchers. The main telescope has survived, although it is not known if it has been damaged.
The fire is spreading in a northerly direction away from Timor Road and the observatory and is currently burning in the Bugaldie area.
Properties to the west of the the Warrumbungle National Park may come under direct threat if firefighters cannot contain the fire on the western boundary of the National Park.
Approximately 83 firefighters supported by aircraft worked to establish containment lines throughout the afternoon and evening on Monday.
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has a very impressive Operations Center in Sydney, Australia which they activated on January 7 when the bush fire activity increased. The Center provides support and assistance to local Fire Control Centers and Incident Management Teams across the state.
As you can see, it has a HUGE video wall, which is reported to be the largest in the southern hemisphere. It has 100 individual LCD screens which can display either one large visual, such as a map, or up to 32 different inputs including graphs, statistics, weather predictions, and live feeds from various sites.
Does the dispatch center in your local area look pretty much like this?