Firefighters in Victoria — photos

Images from the front lines of Australia’s bushfires

bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter by Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, @DELWP_Vic

Until two to three weeks ago most of the bushfire activity in Australia was concentrated in New South Wales, but in January firefighters further south in Victoria became increasingly busy.

Most of these photos (except as noted) were posted on the Twitter account of Chris Hardman, the Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria.

bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
military bushfires helicopter rappell
Posted by Defence Australia, @DeptDefence, December, 2019. (It is not clear in which state this photo was taken, New South Wales or Victoria)

One thing to keep in mind is that when wildland firefighters are actively working to contain a fire they usually do not have time to pull out a camera or smart phone and take pictures. So most of what you see from the front lines are from when they are taking a well-deserved break.

About the next three photos, Chief Hardman wrote:

Driving greater female participation in fire fighting and fire mgt, has paid off, our women are Sector Commanders, Div Coms, Crew Leaders, General FIre Fighters, Dozer Operators, Fallers, IMTs and Air Ops. They are an inspiration to others.

bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Firefighters from the U.S. pose with Victorian firefighters. Posted on Twitter by Robert Garcia, Fire Chief for the Angeles National Forest, @firechiefanf
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Firefighters from the U.S. working in Victoria. Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Firefighters from the U.S. pose with Victorian firefighters. Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Firefighters attend a procession to honor their fallen comrade Mat Kavanagh, 43, who died on duty January 3 in a two vehicle crash on the Goulburn Valley Highway in Victoria. Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter to the account of Chris Hardman, Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria, @FFMVic_Chief, January, 2020.
bushfires firefighters fires Victoria Australia
Posted on Twitter by Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, @DELWP_Vic

Residents suffer through smoky air in Victoria, Australia

On Wednesday some Air Quality Index readings were in the Very Unhealthy category or worse

Air quality in Victoria, Australia
Air quality in Victoria, Australia January 15, 2020. Air-Quality.com

Smoke from bushfires in Victoria, Australia has degraded the air quality to levels that are dangerous in some areas.

If the Air Quality Index used by Air-Quality.com for the map above is the same used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the air quality in the east corner of Victoria near Mallacoota is off the scale, beyond “hazardous”, with an air quality index of 769 at one location.

Mallacoota is the community that had to be evacuated by Navy ships after fires trapped over 4,000 residents and holiday makers.

In the Melbourne area (the cluster of AQI readings in the lower-left corner) the map shows some levels above 200 which is the beginning of the Very Unhealthy for Everyone category; 300 to 500 is Hazardous, and over 500 must be a ridiculous category that the US EPA assumed would never occur. (see the chart below)

Air Quality Index
Air Quality Index, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

From NPR, January 14, 2020:

Smoke from massive wildfires in Australia hangs like a blanket over the city of Melbourne. The smog there is so thick that some of the world’s top athletes have raised alarms about player safety at the Australian Open tennis tournament, slated to kick off next week.

The air quality in Melbourne on Wednesday was forecast to be “very poor to hazardous,” according to the Environment Protection Authority in Victoria state.

The hazardous breathing conditions prompted Australian Open officials to suspend practice sessions Tuesday. But qualifying matches went on as scheduled, and one of the players later said it was “not fair” that they were asked to compete.

That player, Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic, was leading 6-4, 5-6 in her match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele when she was overtaken by a fit of coughing and dropped to her knees. Her breathing difficulties forced her to forfeit, handing the victory to Voegele.

Smoke from the bushfires in Australia has traveled completely around the Earth and will be over the continent again in the coming days. But it may not be visible to the naked eye.

Secret firefighting mission saves famous ‘dinosaur trees’ in Australia

Only 200 Wollemi Pines are left in the grove that was discovered 26 years ago

Wollemi Pine saved fire
A NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service firefighter amid some of the Wollemi pines he helped save. Photo: NPWS.

Firefighters rappelled into a secret location to try to save the remaining Wollemi Pines from burning in the huge Gospers Mountain Fire in New South Wales, Australia. After it started from lightning on October 26, the fire burned 512,000 hectares (1,265,000 acres) before it was contained a few days ago. With only 200 of the trees left the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Rural Fire Service attempt to keep the location a secret.

Below are excerpts from an article at the Sydney Morning Herald:

Contamination from pathogens brought in by visitors could devastate the remaining populations.

“When the pines were discovered in 1994, you might as well have found a living dinosaur,”[NSW Environment and Energy Minister Matt] Kean said.

Cris Brack, an associate professor at the Australian National University, said fossil evidence indicates that the trees existed between 200 and 100 million years ago and were once present across the whole of Australia.

“I knew the [grove] was exceedingly threatened by the fires,” he said.

Aging the current crop is difficult because they may be cloned from only a few trees or even a single individual. As such, the plants could be as old as 100,000 years, Professor Brack said.

The firefighters set up a sprinkler system to keep the ground fuels wet while air tankers and helicopters dropped water and retardant to keep the fire from spreading into the very hard to access grove of trees.

One population of a couple of trees burned, but the remaining 200 made it.

Researchers say the pines have survived fires in the past but the blazes this summer have been abnormally hot and large. Since they were discovered 26 years ago the trees have been propagated by nurseries in Australia and abroad.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Kelly. Typos or errors, report them HERE.

Rain could slow the fires in Australia

Areas of Victoria and New South Wales could receive zero to over two inches of precipitation this week

Precipitation over Victoria and New South Wales
Precipitation detected by radar over Victoria and New South Wales at 4:35 p.m. PST January 15, 2020. Fires are indicated by the flame icons.

Predicted rain and cooler temperatures this week in Australia could slow the spread of the bushfires in Victoria and New South Wales. The heaviest rain will be on the east coast where some areas could receive over two inches while the forecast on the west side of the two states is for much less or perhaps none.

The rain is the product of a deep inland trough drawing humid air into the system.

Small amounts of rain will not put out the fires, but could make them partially dormant for a period of days, giving firefighters time to regroup and construct firelines on portions of the perimeters. But many of the fires are far too large to ever be completely encircled by firelines.

Some of the rain will come in the form of thunderstorms, leading to the possibility of flash flooding, landslides, and fallen trees.

The rain will be welcomed by residents and especially farmers in the drought-stricken communities.

predicted rain australia january 15 2020
Precipitation (in inches) predicted for Australia, January 14 through 19, 2020.

Australian Prime Minister says he should not have vacationed in Hawaii during extreme bushfire activity in his country

In an interview he talks about areas for improvement in the future and proposes a royal commission to evaluate how the fire crisis was handled

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison shake hands
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison attempts to shake someone’s hand. Screenshot from Australian Broadcasting Corp. video.

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked questions about the bushfire crisis in his country.

The topics discussed included:

  1. Things he “could have handled much better.”
  2. A royal commission to evaluate how the fire crisis was managed.
  3. A possible modification of Australia’s policy on climate change.
  4. His December vacation in Hawaii.
  5. The role of the military next time.

Pentagon says climate change is a growing security threat

Wildfires have the potential to become a concern at seven additional bases where it is not now a serious threat

Canyon Fire entrapment
3-D map of the Canyon Fire on Vandenberg Air Force Base, looking east. The red line was the perimeter of the Canyon Fire at 11 p.m. PDT September 20, 2016. The white line was the perimeter at approximately 11 p.m. September 19.

A report prepared by the Department of Defense in 2019 identified 36 bases where wildfire is currently a concern. Taking climate change into account that number is expected to grow to 43 over the next 20 years.

An analysis required by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 studied 79 priority installations based on their operational role. The goal was to assess the significant vulnerabilities from climate-related events in order to identify high risks to mission effectiveness on installations and to operations.

The installations break down by organization as follows:

Military Base Climate Change Study
Department of Defense

In addition to the predicted effects of climate change on wildfire potential, the report also considers recurrent flooding, drought, desertification, and the thawing of permafrost.

The installations that currently are not classified as vulnerable to wildfires but are expected to become so within 20 years are:

  • Key West Naval Air Station, Florida
  • Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, Georgia
  • Joint Base Pearl Harbor & Hickham, Hawaii
  • Wahiawa Annex, Hawaii
  • Naval Magazine Indian Island, Washington
  • Naval and Submarine Base Bangor, Washington
  • Naval Base Guam

Of the 79 installations that were considered in the study, all that were predicted to develop a new vulnerability to wildfire are Naval Bases. Of the 21 Army bases only 4 are now described as vulnerable to wildfire and no others are identified as becoming vulnerable within 20 years.

Military Base Climate Change Study
A summary from the report of current and future (20 years) vulnerabilities to military installations.

One example of an Air Force Base that is currently vulnerable to wildfires is Vandenberg on the Southern California Coast. Two fires on the base come to mind:

  1. On December 20, 1977, three people were entrapped and killed on the Honda Canyon Fire on the base, including the Base Commander Colonel Joseph Turner, Fire Chief Billy Bell, and Assistant Fire Chief Eugene Cooper. Additionally, severe burns were experienced by Heavy Equipment Operator Clarence McCauley.  He later died due to complications from the burns.
  2. In 2016 the Canyon Fire burned over 12,000 acres on the base. Dozens of firefighters were entrapped and endured a harrowing escape through very thick smoke and flying embers. The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned center produced an excellent explanatory video about the entrapment.