Authorities in Australia recommend evacuation due to “catastrophic” fire danger

NSW fire danger January 8, 2013
New South Wales fire danger predicted for January 8, 2013

As we write this at about 11 a.m. Mountain Time in the United States, the sun will be rising in an hour Tuesday morning in New South Wales, Australia. Residents there will experience a day that could have the most extreme fire danger ever recorded. Predictions in the state for Tuesday range from Very High to Catastrophic.

Australia’s ABC News reports that Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said:

Catastrophic fire danger ratings are the worst you can get. We are talking about the most extreme fire behaviour – destruction is likely. We will see ember showers likely to be thrown 10 kilometres, if not 20 kilometres ahead, under the extraordinary conditions being forecast. We are looking at widespread areas of New South Wales likely to experience very high, severe, and even catastrophic conditions.

We’ve got 91 different fires … there’s a lot of work with firefighters on the ground at the moment – more than 650 firefighters working across those fire grounds, looking to bring those fires under control as much as possible.

About 20 of those 91 fires are not under control.

Here is the text of an emergency alert telephone message, a SMS, that was sent to the Illawarra, Shoalhaven, and Southern Ranges regions Monday night ahead of a 43C (109F) temperature forecast, recommending people escape while they can.

If you have received this message you are in an area that is forecast to have Catastrophic Fire Danger on Tuesday 8 January 2013.

For your survival, leaving early is the safest option. Leaving a bush fire prone area tonight or early tomorrow morning is recommended.

Make a decision about when you will leave, where you will go and how you will get there. Homes are not designed to withstand fires in catastrophic conditions.

Below is a screen capture from a cell phone of another similar message sent out by the RFS on Monday, January 7:

NSW RFS fire danger warning
Matt_1110 posted to Instagram this screen capture from his cell phone with a slightly different message, also from the RFS.

In my experience, this is unprecedented, at least in the United States, recommending that residents evacuate based on predicted fire danger — an example of proactive, forward-leaning leadership. If large, damaging fires erupt, the leaders will be praised as heroes. If not, there may be criticism.

The Premier, Barry O’Farrel, is also getting involved, and was quoted at ABC News as saying:

[It] is not going to be just another ordinary day. [It could] be perhaps the worst fire danger day this state has ever faced. If Sydney reaches 43C [109F] [Tuesday], it will only be the third time in the history of record keeping that the temperature in Sydney has been that high.

Last month we wrote an article at Fire Aviation which detailed the aviation resources that were going to be available in Victoria this 2012-2013 fire season down under. Last year they leased two CV-580 air tankers from Conair, but this year it appears there are no large air tankers in Victoria. UPDATE: The Australian states and territories each operate or contract for their own firefighting aircraft, but they are shared across lines as needed. This fire season among all the states there are no large air tankers, but they have 14 small single engine air tankers and 35 helicopters which are used for various purposes.

Current fires in Australia


Thanks go out to Dick and Kelly.