Wildfire conditions in Australia the worst in 40 years

Hall Road Fire, Balmoral Village
Hall Road Fire, Balmoral Village October 17, 2013. NSW RFS photo.

Australian fire officials on Sunday warned that residents of New South Wales are facing the worst wildfire conditions in more than 40 years. Already more than 200 homes have been destroyed and another 120 damaged. One man has died so far trying to protect his property. The weather forecast for Wednesday is even more severe.

The last time firefighters faced a situation like this was in the late 1960s.

Monday some areas received lightning with little or no rain.

lightning and fires NSW
Map showing lightning (in yellow) and fire locations (in blue). October 21, 2013. NWS RFS image.

Assistant police commissioner Alan Clarke said mandatory evacuation orders would be enforced in some areas, describing the risk as “far more extreme” than in past fires.

“Police will be doing forced evacuations if the risk is necessary,” Clarke told reporters.

“At the end of the day we hope we have buildings standing, but if we don’t have buildings standing we don’t want bodies in them.”

The typical wildfire season in Australia is from December through February, but this year firefighters are having to deal with numerous large fires weeks earlier than normal. The contracts for large Erickson Air-Crane helicopters that can carry 2,650 gallons of water were not yet in effect but two of the ships were rushed into service to assist firefighters.

Map of State Mine Fire at 1:20 a.m. October 22, 2013
Map of State Mine Fire at 1:20 a.m. October 22, 2013. NSW RFS.

One of the largest fires is the State Mine Fire about 70 km northwest of Sydney between Lithgow and Bilpin which as burned 42,751 hectares (105,000 acres). It is likely to merge with the New York Road/Mt. Victoria Fire just to the south, which is 2,017 hectares (5,000 acres).

Weather radar showing wildfire smoke Australia
Weather radar showing smoke from the State Mine Fire at 06:42 UTC, October 17, 2013.

Two sources for current maps of fires in Australia: New South Wales Rural Fire Service, and ESRI.

Springwood Fire
New South Wales Rural Fire Service fighting the Springwood Fire near St Columba’s School, October 18, 2013. Photo by Ellie Southwood.