Australian dairy farmer’s father and brother were killed in the bushfire, but his daily chores could not be ignored

Australian Army assist farmer bushfire
Australian Army officer Lieutenant Aiden Frost with dairy farmer Tim Salway and his wife Leanne. Photo: Sergeant Max Bree

Tim Salway’s father, Robert, and brother, Patrick, died trying to defend their properties in a New South Wales bushfire, but Tim’s daily chores at the dairy farm could not be ignored.

The article below was written by Sergeant Max Bree of the Australian Army, January 20, 2020.

A raging inferno killed Tim Salway’s brother and father when bushfires tore through the family dairy farm near Cobargo, NSW, on New Year’s Eve.

As Mr Salway returned to their ravaged 600-acre property, milking came first.

“I knew my old man and brother were lying there just over the hill, but we had to get the cows in,” Mr Salway said.

“You can’t afford to miss because they start getting udder issues.

“That was the hardest milking I’ve ever had to do, but you couldn’t just stop and say ‘that was a bad fire’.”

About 170 of the Salways’ 350 cows were lost in the blaze.

Help arrived in the fires’ wake, including an Army strike team to clear and pile up fallen trees from the paddocks, saving the family an estimated month’s work.

“They ripped in with chainsaws, they smashed through, their bosses kept asking me ‘what next?’,” Mr Salway said.

“We’re able to get back in these paddocks, we’re able to work the land again. In time we’ll be able to burn these heaps [of wood].

“They cleared our driveway and just driving in makes you feel better. Things like this keep you going, as tough as it is for our family.”

Lieutenant Aiden Frost, of the 2nd/17th Battalion, Royal New South Wales Regiment, commanded the strike team that arrived for two days of work on January 14.

They also brought water and an Army chaplain to counsel the Salways.

“The intensity of the fire basically ripped all of the trees out of the ground and created huge amounts of debris which rendered the paddocks sort of unusable,” Lieutenant Frost said.

“The farmers have been overwhelmed. We can’t solve the whole problem, but in a couple of days our guys have been able to clear significant amounts of the property, which will eventually allow their cattle numbers to recover.”

Strike teams, such as those commanded by Lieutenant Frost, are working to assist communities in south-east NSW in the wake of the bushfires.

His team has 26 soldiers from Army’s 5th Brigade, mostly infantrymen and combat engineers supported by a medic and signaller.

Four of the infantrymen completed an Army chainsaw course while the team was staging at Holsworthy.

“One minute we’re helping fix fences to stop cattle getting on the road and the next minute we’re out doing engineer tasks like inspecting culverts and bridges, or felling and cutting up trees” Lieutenant Frost said.

“Even if it is just basic, manual labour, the team is really glad to be able to help.”

The Salways’ farm provides milk to Bega Cheese, the same company that makes canned cheese for Australian Army ration packs.

The company couldn’t process the Salways’ milk for 10 days after the fires, meaning it had to be dumped, but Bega Cheese still paid for it. The company also provided the family with generators, to keep things running until power was restored.

“We take for granted where everything comes from,” Lieutenant Frost said.

“Guys like these farmers provide milk to make cheese for ration packs or the supermarket; everyone knows the struggles they’ve had.

“Then to have a fire devastate your farm and lose family members is the last thing any of these people needed. At least we can show that the people of Australia and the Army cares about them.”

When the team finished at the Salways’ property, Tim’s family had worked for 15 days straight to recover, with no end in sight.

“It wasn’t a fire, it was a monster, like a tornado; it’s something I don’t want to see again,” he said.

“The family down the road lost five houses. Up the road, out of about seven houses, there’s only one left.

“I’ve been trying to say it’s not that bad, but when the Army turns up to help you it must be pretty bad.”

Secret firefighting mission saves famous ‘dinosaur trees’ in Australia

Only 200 Wollemi Pines are left in the grove that was discovered 26 years ago

Wollemi Pine saved fire
A NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service firefighter amid some of the Wollemi pines he helped save. Photo: NPWS.

Firefighters rappelled into a secret location to try to save the remaining Wollemi Pines from burning in the huge Gospers Mountain Fire in New South Wales, Australia. After it started from lightning on October 26, the fire burned 512,000 hectares (1,265,000 acres) before it was contained a few days ago. With only 200 of the trees left the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Rural Fire Service attempt to keep the location a secret.

Below are excerpts from an article at the Sydney Morning Herald:

Contamination from pathogens brought in by visitors could devastate the remaining populations.

“When the pines were discovered in 1994, you might as well have found a living dinosaur,”[NSW Environment and Energy Minister Matt] Kean said.

Cris Brack, an associate professor at the Australian National University, said fossil evidence indicates that the trees existed between 200 and 100 million years ago and were once present across the whole of Australia.

“I knew the [grove] was exceedingly threatened by the fires,” he said.

Aging the current crop is difficult because they may be cloned from only a few trees or even a single individual. As such, the plants could be as old as 100,000 years, Professor Brack said.

The firefighters set up a sprinkler system to keep the ground fuels wet while air tankers and helicopters dropped water and retardant to keep the fire from spreading into the very hard to access grove of trees.

One population of a couple of trees burned, but the remaining 200 made it.

Researchers say the pines have survived fires in the past but the blazes this summer have been abnormally hot and large. Since they were discovered 26 years ago the trees have been propagated by nurseries in Australia and abroad.

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

Rain could slow the fires in Australia

Areas of Victoria and New South Wales could receive zero to over two inches of precipitation this week

Precipitation over Victoria and New South Wales
Precipitation detected by radar over Victoria and New South Wales at 4:35 p.m. PST January 15, 2020. Fires are indicated by the flame icons.

Predicted rain and cooler temperatures this week in Australia could slow the spread of the bushfires in Victoria and New South Wales. The heaviest rain will be on the east coast where some areas could receive over two inches while the forecast on the west side of the two states is for much less or perhaps none.

The rain is the product of a deep inland trough drawing humid air into the system.

Small amounts of rain will not put out the fires, but could make them partially dormant for a period of days, giving firefighters time to regroup and construct firelines on portions of the perimeters. But many of the fires are far too large to ever be completely encircled by firelines.

Some of the rain will come in the form of thunderstorms, leading to the possibility of flash flooding, landslides, and fallen trees.

The rain will be welcomed by residents and especially farmers in the drought-stricken communities.

predicted rain australia january 15 2020
Precipitation (in inches) predicted for Australia, January 14 through 19, 2020.

U.S. firefighters describe an intense assignment in Australia

They were interviewed for an Australian television program

Eric Zonotto Fire Management Officer U.S. Forest Service
Eric Zonotto, a Fire Management Officer for the U.S. Forest Service in Colorado, is interviewed in Australia. Screenshot from the SBS Dateline video below.

Chuck Russell of the National Park Service, Eric Zonotto of the U.S. Forest Service, and other firefighters from the United States talk in the video below about the intensity of their deployment in Australia alongside New South Wales Rural Fire Service personnel and their respect for the Australian volunteer firefighters and the local communities.

AFAC has an article about representatives from the U.S. Forest Service that are serving in a liaison capacity, Chris Niccoli, Shawna Legarza, and Gordy Sachs.

Six bushfires merge in Australia to burn 1.5 million acres

gigafire australia victoria new south wales
Six bushfires in two Australian states have merged, forming a huge megafire covering 1,532,484 acres (632,315 hectares). To get an idea of the scale, the distance between Canberra and Albury is 134 miles (216 km).  Map: NSW RFS

Six bushfires in two Australian states have merged, forming a huge blaze covering 1,532,484 acres (632,315 hectares) slightly smaller than the size of Delaware in the United States. The fires in Victoria and New South Wales met near Jingellic NSW between Canberra and Albury.

NAME            HECTARES
Dunns Road, 316,754
Doubtful Gap Trail, 48,918
Adaminaby Complex, 28,640
Green Valley, Talmalmo, 233,390
Mount Youngal, 1,000
Pilot Lookout, 3,613

TOTAL: 632,315 hectares (1,532,484 acres)

Below is an excerpt from an article at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation updated Friday night local time:

Firefighters are bracing for a difficult night ahead amid the formation of a second “mega-blaze” and a southerly change sweeping up the New South Wales coast, bringing gusts of up to 90 kilometres per hour.

Emergency warnings were issued earlier for the Dunns Road fire burning near Ellerslie and Tarcutta in the Snowy Valleys, as well as the Green Valley Talmalmo fire and the adjoining East Ournie Creek fire, burning east of Albury.

All three fires have now joined to form the state’s second “mega-blaze” and now covers more than 640,000 hectares, straddling the New South Wales and Victorian borders.

However, these blazes had all been downgraded to watch and act overnight. In total, four fires were at watch and act level last night, including the Erskine Creek blaze burning south of Leura and Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains.

NSW Rural Fire Service Inspector Ben Shepherd said warnings for the blaze had been upgraded in anticipation of the southerly hitting the area around midnight and he warned residents to monitor conditions as the front moved through.

In a Facebook post, Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill told locals it had been a “hard day” for the region ahead of a “night of vigilance for us all”.

“We were worried it would be a hard day. That has been the case,” he wrote.

“We have had fire activity in the Grose Valley a few kilometres from Faulconbridge. This was air-attacked throughout the afternoon. Work will continue tomorrow.

“Crews are working hard to manage this activity. They will have a long night … I am sorry the news is not better but tonight is a night of vigilance for us all.”

NASA has released an animation showing smoke from the Australian fires reaching across the Pacific to South America.

NASA’s description of the video:

“The animation shows RGB color images from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite for December 31, 2019 through January 5, 2020. A plume of brown smoke extends from the southeastern coast of Australia, over the Tasman Sea and beyond into the Pacific Ocean.

“The overlaid vertical cross sections show CALIPSO lidar observations for these same days. The bright colors indicate the presence of small particles (aerosols) and the white color indicates clouds. Visible in each of the cross sections near 40 degrees south is a thick layer of smoke from the fires at altitudes above 9 miles (14.5 km). The dark shading below these layers is due to the absence of lidar signals below the opaque smoke layers. These layers contain very small particles and have optical properties similar to smoke.

“The sequence of CALIPSO and MODIS tracks in the animation indicates the continued transport of the smoke layer to the east. As of Jan. 5, 2020, smoke was detected more than 4,000 miles from the source.

“Credit: NASA Langley/Roman Kowch”

Photos of North American firefighters in Australia

U.S. Firefighters assisting Australia
Thirty-nine firefighters and two liaison officers from across the US, including from Phoenix, Georgia and Idaho, joined Victorian crews in eastern Victoria following their arrival in Melbourne on January 2. Vic Emergency photo.

By mid-week 155 firefighters will have deployed from the United States to assist with the fires in Australia, including a group of 71 (61 from  the U.S. and 10 from Canada) that is expected to arrive Wednesday.

U.S. Firefighters assisting Australia Canadian Firefighters assisting Australia U.S. Firefighters assisting Australia

U.S. Firefighters assisting Australia
Shawna Legarza (right), Fire Director for the U.S. Forest Service, was part of a group welcoming firefighters to Australia. Screenshot form @gracefitz_9 video.
U.S. Firefighters assisting Australia
Shawna Legarza (center), Fire Director for the U.S. Forest Service, was part of a group welcoming firefighters to Australia. Photo by @USConGenSydney