Extreme heat on Friday in Victoria, Australia combined with strong winds and low humidity caused a bushfire 10 km (6 miles) north of Timbarra to grow from 300 hectares (740 acres) to approximately 10,522 hectares (26,000 acres). Lighting ignited the fire on January 16 and in an odd twist, extreme fire behavior Friday created hundreds of lightning strikes around a massive pyrocumulus cloud that rose to 38,000 feet while igniting additional fires.
The temperature at the top of the cloud was -55°C (-67°F) according to the Victoria Bureau of Meteorology.
Friday evening the weather changed substantially, bringing in cool, moist air that slowed the spread of the fire. Officials say due to the size and difficult topography, it will be weeks before it can be completely contained.
Wildfires that have been burning for weeks in Tasmania, the southernmost state in Australia, continue to spread and affect properties and air quality on the island. Some of the blazes in the central part of the state are burning in deep-seated organic soil, peat, and are likely to keep burning through the Australian summer.
Below is an excerpt from Radio New Zealand:
The fires have been burning since late December, in the Gell River area, after a heatwave and a period of lightning strikes and high winds. The fires were burning across 20,000 hectares (49,000 acres) of mountainous terrain.
Haze from bushfire smoke is blanketing several Tasmanian towns, with hot and dry conditions across the state and more than 30 blazes already burning setting the scene for a nervous few days.
South of Hobart, air quality monitoring data measured smoke particles at 8.00am as being at elevated levels, with Geeveston at 35 times that of Hobart. Residents living in the Huon Valley, where smoke from the bushfire at Gell River has filled the sky, posted on social media that many had not seen conditions as bad, with some mentioning 1967 as the only year which came close – the year of Tasmania’s worst fire disaster.
On Facebook, George Henry Ross asked locals if they had ever seen so much smoke haze around the valley.
“I can’t remember a summer like it,” he said, with many agreeing.
Eric Bat said he had been chatting with a bloke who did remember a summer like it: 1967.
“We rather hoped things have improved since then.”
Reinforcements are being sent to Tasmania from New South Wales, Queensland, and New Zealand.
At least two large air tankers from the Australian mainland are helping out.
15 of our best have made their way to #Tasmania this weekend to assist local crews battling blazes in intense heatwave conditions. 🔥 It’s great to be able to repay our neighbours for the hard work they put in during Qld’s severe fires last year. 👏 @TasFireServicepic.twitter.com/WzWsh15lKW
Until today I have never heard of a bicycle igniting a vegetation fire. You would think that a road bike being used on a highway would be one of the modes of transportation least likely to start a wildfire.
It turns out, if that bike is modified with an after market wheel hub using a battery-powered electric motor all bets are off.
On Monday 79-year old Gary Ryan was riding his Pinarello Dogma F8 retrofitted with an electric hub motor when the device caught fire on Corkscrew Road in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia (map). (The device may have been similar to this one.) After receiving a slight burn on his leg he got off the bike and watched as flames reported to be 10-feet high shot out of the battery. The fire partially melted the bike’s frame and spread into the vegetation along the highway. Mr. Ryan and other riders backed away as CO² cartridges exploded that he carried on the bike for inflating tires.
Firefighters that happened to be working on a fire nearby responded quickly and knocked the blaze down after it spread for about 100-feet.
Residents and emergency crews in Australia have been on edge for the last four days as they deal with record heat approaching 50C (122F) in some areas.
Their Rx season is usually from early spring to early summer.
The prescribed burning season in the Warren Region of Western Australia usually winds down this time of the year during the early summer months. Their wildfire season typically extends from October to May.
The official designations of the seasons south of the equator in Australia are laid out like this:
Summer: December – February
Autumn: March – May
Winter: June – August
Spring: September – November
In addition to telling us about the prescribed burning video (below), Dr. Lachlan McCaw, Senior Principal Research Scientist with Western Australia’s Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, sent us an overview of of their prescribed burning program in the Warren Region:
The Region is situated in the southwest part of Western Australian and features extensive areas of native vegetation, including designated wilderness areas and the state’s tallest forests. The region is also home to iconic tourism destinations, a rich and diverse agricultural industry, and unique conservation values associated with the highest rainfall area of Western Australia.
Public lands within the region are managed by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions Parks and Wildlife Service and include 0.65 million hectares (1.60 million acres) of national parks and nature reserves, 0.25 million hectares (0.617 million acres) of state forest and timber reserves, and a lesser area of unallocated crown land and unmanaged reserves.
Southwest Western Australia has a Mediterranean type climate with warm dry summers and the fire season typically extends from October to May. Open forests and heathlands become dry enough to burn in early spring whereas tall dense forest types may retain moisture into the early months of the austral summer.
Prescribed fire is an important tool for land management in southwest Western Australia and in the Warren Region the annual burning program undertaken by the Parks and Wildlife Service may vary from 30,000 ha (74,000 a.) to 70,000 ha (172,000 a.). Prescribed burning is undertaken for a number of purposes including:
To mitigate the risk and severity of bushfires and assist in the protection of lives, property and infrastructure by reducing the build up of vegetation fuels;
To maintain biodiversity and habitat diversity;
To reestablish vegetation after timber harvesting and disturbance by mining operations;
To understand the behaviour of fire and its interactions with the environment.
Firefighters in New South Wales have traveled across the Bass Strait to assist their brothers and sisters in Tasmania. The five personnel will be working with the Tasmania Fire Service, specifically on the Gell River Fire in the southwest part of the state. The deployment of five arrived Sunday to assume specialist aviation roles operating out of Hobart and Strathgordon.
The Gell River Fire has burned 50,600 acres (20,500 ha) primarily in Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. Portions of the fire are burning in peat, which means the deep-seated blaze will likely persist for months and continue to produce smoke.
Below is an update on the fire from the Tasmania Fire Service:
The fire continues to burn in buttongrass and mixed forest vegetation in the Vale of Rasselas, approximately 10 kilometres northwest of Tim Shea and along the Denison Range and Gordon Range. A sprinkler line around the northern side of Lake Rhona was successful in protecting fire-sensitive vegetation communities. Fire fighters and aerial water-bombing also managed to protect these vegetation communities in other areas. Specialist remote area fire fighters are working in rugged terrain to extinguish the fire. Although the fire is still uncontained, suppression operations conducted by fire fighters and water bombing aircraft have been successful to date, with many active fire edges minimised. An increase in smoke may be visible in the Greater Hobart area, Derwent Valley and Huon Valley on Tuesday evening and Wednesday due to increased fire activity, particularly at the southern end of the fire. Resources currently deployed to the Gell River bushfire include 60 personnel and eight aircraft. Tasmania Fire Service
The fire near Gell River has burned over 37,000 acres
A large wildfire that started in the Gell River area in the Australian state of Tasmania has burned more than 37,000 acres (15,000 Ha) mostly in the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park. The fire is approaching Lake Rhona and Gordon River and has sent embers into Mount Field National Park. The blaze was burning button grass but has moved into timber and peat areas, which could result in it persisting for months.
Dense smoke that spread toward the southeast heavily impacted Hobart as you can see in this satellite photo.
Paul Black of the Parks and Wildlife Service said, “We’ll be considering further retardant drops, back-burning operations, a lot of water bombing, and hot and cold trailing of the active edge of the fire.”
Clouds and cooler weather moved in and slowed the spread of the fire on January 4.