PIlliga Fire closes Newell Highway in New South Wales

Above: The Pilliga Fire 60 km southwest of Narrabri, New South Wales, Australia. Modified Copernicus Sentinel satellite data  processed by Pierre Markuse.

(Originally published at 8:46 MST January 19, 2018)

The Pilliga Fire in Australia between #Coonabarabran and #Narrabri has burned approximately 20,000 hectares (49,400 acres) in New South Wales, requiring the closure of the Newell Highway. The fire is burning near Dipper Road, Dandry, in the Pilliga Forest west of the highway.

Pilliga Fire New South Wales
Pilliga Fire 60 km southwest of Narrabri, New South Wales, Australia.

The Rural Fire Service reports that smoke is likely to drift across the Wee Waa, Gwabegar, and Baradine areas. There is, however, no current threat to homes.

Pilliga Fire New South Wales
Pilliga Fire 60 km southwest of Narrabri, New South Wales, Australia.

map Pilliga Fire New South Wales

Bushfire in NSW threatened communities north of Newcastle

On Saturday January 13 a bushfire near Masonite Road threatened the communities of Tomago, Williamtown, and Raymond Terrace 17 Km north of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.

(If you don’t see the video below shot from an air attack aircraft, click HERE.)

The weather changed, bringing a little precipitation after it had burned 1,381 hectares (3,412 acre), slowing the spread. For a while the Newcastle airport was closed due to visibility reduced by smoke.

The fire was fought by 66 firefighters from the Rural Fire Service, Fire and Rescue, and the National Parks and Wildlife Service. They were assisted by helicopters and Air Tanker 912, a DC-10 that was recently renamed “Nancy Bird” in honor of an Australian aviatrix.

Victoria’s new fire engines have rollover and tree protection

Above: Mercedes Benz G-wagon fire engine. Photo by Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning 

In the last week two reports have been released about serious accidents involving U.S. Forest Service fire engines. One was a rollover and the other was an engine that was hit by a falling tree. Rollovers of wildland engines are common. We have assigned the “rollover” tag to 48 articles on Wildfire Today. There were two fairly minor injuries in the most recent rollover and none in the tree strike incident. Other rollovers have been much more serious.

Engine 492 crash Wyoming
The crash of USFS Engine 492 in Wyoming August 8, 2013. USFS photo.

Some of the newer USFS engines have what the manufacturer calls a “Rear Cab Protection Rack (headache rack)”, a roll bar behind the cab, but in spite of this, the cab of the recent rollover was partially crushed, making it a challenge for the three occupants to climb out of the damaged side window.

The Australians have been more forward-thinking than their US counterparts when it comes to providing for the safety of the firefighters that work with engines. Many of the trucks have spray bars that provide a water curtain around the cab which can be activated if the crew is entrapped in a fire. Some of them also have substantial rollover protection systems that prevent the passenger compartment from being crushed in a rollover.

Internal roll bar Country Fire Authority engine
Internal roll bar in a Country Fire Authority engine in Victoria..

Three years ago in Victoria, Australia two firefighters were killed at Harrietville when their fire engine was struck by a falling tree. The next year the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning began acquiring the first of dozens of new Mercedes-Benz G-wagon fire engines.

Mercedes Benz G-wagon fire engine
Mercedes Benz G-wagon engine. Screen grab from the Tweet below.

The new trucks have a superstructure suspended horizontally over the cab that should minimize injuries to the crew in case of a falling tree. It appears that it would also offer rollover protection for the occupants.

We have often suggested that the wildland fire agencies in the United States fund research conducted by engineers to determine how to prevent the passenger compartments in their fire engines from collapsing in accidents. The Aussies have it covered, so to speak.

Australia is off to an early wildfire season

Firefighters in some parts of Australia are getting busy. These photos are from Forest Fire Management Victoria.

Bush fire season cranks up in Australia

NSW bush fire
A tough day for firefighters across New South Wales Wednesday with warm, dry and windy conditions. At 5:30 pm there were 94 bush and grass fires, with 38 uncontained. NSWRFS photo.

The bush fire season is heating up in New South Wales, Australia as they move into their Spring down under.

The video below was shot by a helicopter over a fire at Lakes Way at Tuncurry in New South Wales. It includes infrared and conventional images.

At the last report the fire had burned 1,700 hectares (4,201 acres) east of Nabiac and North of Tuncurry.

Government of Victoria proposes shakeup of fire services

The Country Fire Authority would become totally volunteer.

Daniel Andrews, the Premier of the Australian state of Victoria, is proposing a major overhaul of the fire services organizations. If legislation to enact the changes is passed, the Country Fire Authority (CFA) will become a volunteer-only agency when its paid employees merge with what has been the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) to morph into the newly-created Fire Rescue Victoria.

The Premier said, “These challenges have been made clear through a number of reviews in recent years, including the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission.”

The MFB provides firefighting, rescue, medical, and hazardous material incident response services to the metropolitan area of Melbourne. The CFA, which provides firefighting and emergency services to rural areas of Victoria, has been mostly volunteer, with about 35,000 volunteers and over 1,000 paid professionals.

The Premier intends to sweeten the deal by promising more than $100 million to support volunteer brigades with additional training, equipment and facilities.

In addition (and this is big) the government intends to recognize presumptive cancers that are diagnosed among volunteers.

Below is an excerpt from a summary of the proposed fire services reorganization:

This recognises the challenges that firefighters have faced in accessing compensation for cancer arising from their service. The scheme will deliver equal access to compensation for career and volunteer firefighters.

It will apply to firefighters who have developed cancer because of their service and have been diagnosed since 1 June 2016. Rules that require volunteer firefighters to have attended a specific number of fires are problematic, so the scheme will instead mirror the approach taken in Queensland, which has no specific incident requirements.

Skeptics think one of the reasons for the major revamping of the agencies is the hope that it “will end a controversial dispute with the United Firefighters Union, which has fought bitterly with the government, the CFA, the MFB and volunteers over new pay deals”, according to an article at 9news.com.au.