Rain stops some of the bushfires in Australia

A number of locations have received 100 mm (almost four inches) of precipitation

Precip Observed
Observed precipitation observed during the seven-day period ending February 7. The darkest green color indicates 100 mm (almost 4 inches) of precipitation.

Many areas in New South Wales, Victoria, and Queensland have received multiple inches of rain over the last seven days with a number of locations recording about 100 mm (almost four inches).

A heavy rain could come close to putting out some fires but a light rain, depending on the fuel (vegetation), might just pause the spread for a while. And some regions have received little or no rain.

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says the rain is “breaking the back” of the bushfire season. “The rain is good for business and farms as well as being really good for quenching some of these fires we’ve been dealing with for many, many months,” the commissioner told ABC TV on Friday.

The forecast for Sydney, on the NSW coast, calls for nearly 100 percent chance of precipitation every day over the next eight days.

Precipitation forecast for Sydney, Australia
Precipitation forecast for Sydney, Australia. Generated Saturday February 8 local time.

Landing light on military helicopter ignited bushfire south of Canberra, Australia

Australian Navy NHI MRH-90 Helicopter
File photo of a Royal Australian Navy NHI MRH-90 Helicopter. Photo by Duan Zhu.

Several bushfires in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) have kept firefighters busy in recent days. The Department of Defense admitted that one of them two weeks ago was caused by heat from a landing light on an MRH-90 Helicopter. It burned within a kilometer of Tharwa, a suburb south of Canberra.

From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:

“The fire started during routine aerial reconnaissance and ground clearance work being conducted in the area in support of our local firefighters and authorities,” Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman said on behalf of the Department of Defense.

Lieutenant General Greg Bilton said the helicopter was using the lights to help it land in smoky conditions, but the heat set a fire that grew rapidly and damaged the aircraft. He said defense was investigating the issue but operating procedures would be changed so that the landing lights were not used in extreme conditions.

It is reportedly the first time a fire has been started by a helicopter landing light.

Smoke from another fire in the ACT that shut down the Canberra Airport for a while was caused by beekeepers checking hives. The fire started January 22 and for several hours threatened homes and businesses.

From the ABC:

The Beard fire jumped the Molonglo River on Thursday and came close to the suburbs of Beard, Harman and Oaks Estate. It also merged with a second fire on Kallaroo Road, which began in the same suburb of Pialligo earlier in the day.

The combined fire reached 424 hectares in size and was at emergency alert level for much of the afternoon, but by 9:00pm was down to 379 hectares.

The hives are part of a national honey bee surveillance program that regularly checks for the arrival of exotic pests that might threaten Australia’s bee population.That process uses smokers to calm the bees so the hives can be inspected, which requires lighting fuels to generate the smoke. The hives are maintained on behalf of the ACT Government by Canberra Region Beekeepers — the program is usually run through state agriculture departments in other jurisdictions.

Air tankers based in Richmond, New South Wales have been busy recently. Between January 26 and 31 a DC-10, Tanker 911, flew 22 missions, while T-137, a 737, flew 12. Their destinations were in or near the ACT and in southern NSW.

Tanker 131, a C-130Q based in Avalon, Victoria completed several missions north of Melbourne and along the Victoria/NSW border.

Video of the last drop of Air Tanker 134 in Australia

The EC-130Q crashed in New South Wales January 23, 2020

Tanker 134 C-130 crash EC-130Q Australia fatalities Coulson
Screenshot from video of the final drop of Tanker 134, an EC-130Q, January 23, 2020 in New South Wales. The video was posted on YouTube January 29, 2020 by Smokey Veras.

A video has emerged of the final retardant drop of Air Tanker 134, the Coulson Aviation EC-130Q that crashed just after the drop January 23, 2020.

It appears from the video that as the drop was made the wind was approximately from the 5 o’clock position of the aircraft. Judging from wind noise on the cell phone’s microphone, dust blowing on the road, and the movement of the smoke, the wind speed was pretty significant.

The video contains a brief view of fire near the end, which may be sensitive to some people.

After making the drop, the aircraft began a left turn and climbed slightly before disappearing in the smoke, reappearing for a second, and soon after that crashed.

Tanker 134 C-130 crash EC-130Q Australia fatalities Coulson
The crash scene of Tanker 134 photographed by an Army drone mapping the fire.
Tanker 134 C-130 crash EC-130Q Australia fatalities Coulson
The crash scene of Tanker 134 photographed by an Army drone mapping the fire.

All members of the three-person crew died in the crash. Captain Ian H. McBeth lived in Great Falls, Montana and served with the Wyoming Air National Guard and was still a member of the Montana Air National Guard. He spent his entire career flying C-130’s and was a qualified Instructor and Evaluator pilot. Ian earned his Initial Attack qualification for Coulson in 2018.

First Officer Paul Clyde Hudson of Buckeye, Arizona graduated from the Naval Academy in 1999 and spent the next twenty years serving in the United States Marine Corp in a number of positions including C-130 pilot. He retired as a Lt. Colonel.

Flight Engineer Rick A. DeMorgan Jr. lived in Navarre, Florida. He served in the United States Air Force for eighteen years as a Flight Engineer on the C-130. Rick had over 4,000 hours as a Flight Engineer with nearly 2,000 hours in a combat environment.

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

It is more difficult for animals to survive megafires than “normal” fires

The cumulative effects of the bushfires in Australia during the 2019-2020 summer are unprecedented.

bushfire in Victoria Australia
Photo of a fire in Victoria, Australia, by Forest Fire Management Victoria Forest Fire Operations Officer Dion Hooper, taken on Wombargo Track looking towards Cobberas (north of Buchan in East Gippsland).

On a typical, average, or normal vegetation fire, many animals can move out of the area and others can hide underground. They even depend on periodic fires to recharge the ecosystem in some cases. But as we more often have fires that are not “normal” — extremely large and moving very rapidly — I tend to worry more about the adverse effects on wildlife. Even if they survive the fire itself, when they emerge there might be no food or shelter left for miles.

The cumulative effects of the bushfires in Australia during the 2019-2020 summer are unprecedented.

From CNN:

Some animals, like koalas and kangaroos, are primarily killed directly by the fires — for instance, by being incinerated in flames or choking on smoke. Nearly a third of all koalas in New South Wales have died and about a third of their habitat has been destroyed, federal environment minister Sussan Ley said in December.

Photos from the ground show koalas with singed fur, raw patches of burnt flesh, and blistered paws. Even if they are rescued and treated, sometimes their injuries are simply too extensive to survive.

Wombats have also been hit hard — they don’t cope well with heat or stress, and panic at the smell of smoke. The small, stubby-legged marsupials can’t run very fast or far, and are largely at the mercy of the flames.

“It’s just horrendous,” said Graeme Jackson, a NSW resident who has experience raising orphaned wombats. “A wombat can run 30 kilometers (per hour/18.6 mph), he can run that fast (for) short distances — and then he burns.”

From the Scientific American:

The sheer scale of this season’s fires, in terms of both size and intensity, also works against animal survival—both during and after the fires. “These fires in Australia are so severe that I fear it doesn’t matter that these small animals can even find these refugia,” Anna Doty, a physiological ecologist at California State University, Bakersfield says, noting that the heat may penetrate into crevices and hollows. And this time around, the burn scars will be so large that recolonizing their interiors will take an extremely long time, especially for slower-moving species, she says.