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.

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 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.

U.S. firefighters describe an intense assignment in Australia

They were interviewed for an Australian television program

Eric Zonotto Fire Management Officer U.S. Forest Service
Eric Zonotto, a Fire Management Officer for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado, is interviewed in Australia. Screenshot from the SBS Dateline video below.

Chuck Russell of the National Park Service, Eric Zonotto of the U.S. Forest Service, and other firefighters from the United States talk in the video below about the intensity of their deployment in Australia alongside New South Wales Rural Fire Service personnel and their respect for the Australian volunteer firefighters and the local communities.

AFAC has an article about representatives from the U.S. Forest Service that are serving in a liaison capacity, Chris Niccoli, Shawna Legarza, and Gordy Sachs.

AFAC explains the process for accepting assistance in Australia during the bushfire crisis

AFAC bushfires Australia National Resource Sharing Centre
AFAC maintains the National Resource Sharing Centre (NRSC), which facilitates international and interstate deployments through its established partnerships and national arrangements. AFAC photo.

Many people would like to travel to Australia to help with the response and recovery from the historic bushfires, either as a paid employee or a volunteer.

The National Council for Fire & Emergency Services (formerly the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council or AFAC), is the primary organization responsible for representing fire, emergency services, and land management agencies in the Australasian region. It is still known as AFAC.

Below is a statement AFAC released January 11 that lays out their process for requesting and accepting assistance during the bushfire crisis.

AFAC maintains the National Resource Sharing Centre (NRSC), which facilitates international and interstate deployments through its established partnerships and national arrangements.

The NRSC is tasked by the Commissioners and Chief Officers of fire and emergency service agencies in Australia and New Zealand, and is supported the Australian Government through Emergency Management Australia and the Crisis Coordination Centre.

The NRSC coordinates interstate and international resources, responding to the needs of our members. Currently, we have international assistance from the Canada, the United States and New Zealand in Australia assisting our effort.

Australia continues to receive generous offers of support from around the world to assist during the ongoing bushfire crisis. Each request that is received is logged and in collaboration with the Crisis Coordination Centre, is assessed for its suitability to our Australian operating environment. Key considerations include:

– Is it fit for purpose?
– Does it meet our safety requirements?
– Can it easily align to our common incident management system?
– Does it meet the appropriate legal requirements?
– Does an agency want to receive it?

Unfortunately, not all requests are able to be accepted. Our number one priority is the primacy of life, for fire and emergency personnel and the community. We need to ensure that wherever possible, operations are carried out safely, supported by resources with the appropriate skills and equipment to meet the needs of the situation. Familiarity with Australian fire conditions is critical.

AFAC remains committed to supporting its members and will continue to work with our partners and the Australian Government to ensure that our fire and emergency services have the support that they need.

satellite photo map Australia bushfires fires
Satellite photo showing smoke from the fires in Australia, January 12, 2020. The red areas represent heat. NASA.
Map fires New South Wales, Victoria,  South Australia
Map of fires in New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia by @gergyl January 12, 2020.

Bushfire has burned almost half of Kangaroo Island

Two Country Fire Service trucks were involved in burn-overs

Map Ravine Fire Kangaroo Island
Map showing the extent of the Ravine Fire on Kangaroo Island, January 12, 2020. South Australian Country Fire Service.

The Ravine Fire that has been working its way across Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia has burned almost half of the area of the island, over 210,000 hectares (519,000 acres) or 48 percent. (See map of the fire above)

Below is an excerpt from a January 10 article at 9News:

Properties have been lost, firefighters injured and more land blackened after a night of horrific conditions across the Kangaroo Island bushfires, but the emergency has eased. Assessments are underway, but some homes are believed lost at Vivonne Bay while the town of Parndana was spared for a second time, despite fire bearing down on it from several directions. Both towns had been evacuated amid emergency warnings and the escalating danger.

Two Country Fire Service trucks were involved in burn-overs and two more CFS personnel were injured, taking the total hurt on Kangaroo Island to 22.

With rain falling across the fire ground on Friday, the warning levels for all fires were reduced first to a watch and act and then to a simple bushfire advice.

CFS chief officer Mark Jones said Thursday night was an “incredibly difficult” period for all 280 firefighters on the island.

“Winds were not consistent, they were blustery and came from many different directions,” he said.

The fire danger will increase on Monday as the forecast of Kingscote calls for winds out of the south at 8 to 16 mph. Those northerly winds will grow to 14 to 20 mph Tuesday through Thursday with very little chance of rain.

Much of the eastern third of the island consists of pastures or agriculture land without as many forested areas as found on the west end where Flinders Chase National Park is located. Most of the park has burned along with many structures in and near the park.

Two men were killed on January 4, Dick Lang and his son Clayton.

The State Government on Sunday reported that more than 32,000 livestock animals, mostly sheep, perished in the blazes as well as 830 hives and 115 nucleus hives.

The satellite photos below illustrate the eastward growth of the fire on Kangaroo Island over a five-day period.

Map Ravine Fire Kangaroo Island satellite photo
January 6, 2020 satellite photo showing the Ravine Fire on Kangaroo Island. The red areas represent heat. NASA.
Map Ravine Fire Kangaroo Island satellite photo
January 11, 2020 satellite photo showing the Ravine Fire on Kangaroo Island. The red areas represent heat. NASA.

Firefighter killed on bushfire in Victoria, Australia

Near Omeo January 11

bushfire victoria december 30 2019
A fire in the East Gippsland region of Victoria, December 30, 2019. Photo by Ned Dawson for Victoria State Government.

UPDATED at 6:43 p.m. PST January 11, 2020.

The bushfires in Australia have claimed the life of a fifth firefighter. It occurred Saturday January 11 while a firefighter was working on a fire in the Omeo area of Victoria, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp has confirmed.

Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman said, “Bill Slade was working as a member of a task force at the Anglers Rest area and he was struck by a tree.”

“Family and fellow emergency personnel are being informed and will be supported,” he said. “The safety and wellbeing of our people is our highest priority. The matter will be investigated by Victoria Police who will prepare a report for the Coroner.”

Mr. Slade, 60, had worked for 40 years as a firefighter with Parks Victoria. He is survived by his wife Carol, daughter Steph and son Ethan.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers.

Other recent firefighter fatalities in Australia:

January 3, 2020: Victoria Forest Fires Management worker Mat Kavanagh, 43, died on duty in a two vehicle crash on the Goulburn Valley Highway, in Victoria. His colleague was injured.

December 30, 2019: New South Wales Rural Fire Service volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul died when a fire tornado or column collapse flipped his fire engine in New South Wales. Two other firefighters were also injured.

December 19, 2019: Andrew O’Dwyer and Geoffrey Keaton were killed while working on the Green Wattle Creek Bushfire when their truck hit a tree near Buxton in southwestern Sydney, New South Wales. They were both volunteer firefighters for the NSW Rural Fire Service.

At least 27 people have died in the Australia bushfires during the 2019/2020 bushfire season.

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