The 42 firefighting personnel from Canada and the United States have arrived in Australia. Each country sent 21 fire supervision and aviation specialists who will assist with suppressing the fires that have been burning in nearly unprecedented numbers over the last several weeks. There is no long term relief in sight since the Australian summer is just starting.
The Sydney Morning Herald has an interesting article about the Americans being incorporated into the New South Wales fire culture. Check out their very interesting article and the photos. Here is an excerpt:
As the first ever deployment of American firefighters made the descent into Sydney from the United States on Saturday morning, the bushfire smoke cloaking the city for the past week filled the aircraft cabin. For firefighting aviation specialist Michelle Moore, from Idaho, the smell wasn’t alarming.
“I understand it’s pretty traumatic for you guys, but it’s something we deal with – it’s our comfort zone,” she said. “It smells like it’s time to go to work.”
The group is spending Sunday in briefings before heading out on Monday to locations including the “mega fire” around Gospers Mountain that stretches from the Hawkesbury into the Hunter and Central Coast regions, and the Currowan fire north of Batemans Bay on the South Coast.
Inside the briefing notes on Sunday was the important lesson of getting familiar with Australia’s spiders and snakes. Fire and Rescue NSW Commissioner Paul Baxter said the Australian accent will probably also take some getting used to.
Australia has just moved into their summer, but firefighters in New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria have been dealing with exceptionally large numbers of massive bushfires for weeks.
Canada and the United States are each sending 21 firefighters down under to assist their Australian brothers and sisters.
The U.S. personnel will be representing the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Forest Service. The employees are coming from Alaska, Nevada, Montana, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, California, Oregon, Hawaii, and Virginia.
The U.S. firefighters departed from the San Francisco International Airport on Thursday, December 5. The Canadians arrived in Sydney December 5.
This is the first time Canadian firefighters have been deployed to Australia under the Exchange of Wildland Fire Management Resources Agreement.
The last fire assistance between the U.S and Australia was in August of 2018 when 138 Australian and New Zealand wildfire management personnel worked in the U.S. for almost 30 days to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Northern California and the Northwest. The personnel from the Southern Hemisphere filled critical needs during the peak of the western fire season for mid-level fireline management, helicopter operations, and structure protection.
The last time the U.S sent firefighters to Australia was in 2010.
The recent large bushfires in New South Wales have killed more than 1,000 koalas and burned 80 percent of their habitat, according to Deborah Tabart, chair of the Australian Koala Foundation.
Recent bushfires, along with prolonged drought and deforestation has led to koalas becoming “functionally extinct” according to experts.
Functional extinction is when a population becomes so limited that they no longer play a significant role in their ecosystem and the population becomes no longer viable. While some individuals could produce, the limited number of koalas makes the long-term viability of the species unlikely and highly susceptible to disease.
Deforestation and bushfires destroy the main nutrient source of koalas, the eucalyptus tree. An adult koala will eat up to 2 pounds of eucalyptus leaves per day as it’s main staple of nutrients. While eucalyptus plants will grow back after a fire, it will take months, leaving no suitable food source for koalas and starvation a likely scenario for many.
There is a movement in Australia for the government to pass a bill that was introduced in 2016 but never passed. The Koala Protection Act would protect habitats and reduce or prevent hunting of the animals.
The screenshot at the top of this article is from a video showing a woman rescuing the badly injured koala. Click here to see it, but some may find it disturbing.
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service stated on November 19 that the perimeter of the fires in their state so far this fire season was over 6,000 kilometers (3,728 miles). Six people have died, 600 homes have been destroyed, 1.65 million hectares (4.1 million acres) have burned, and the season is not even halfway over. The acres burned to date in 2019 is the third highest annual total since 1970.
Above: Satellite view of the bushfires in New South Wales, Australia. Impressive zoom of the @CopernicusEU#Sentinel3 OLCI instrument. Via @tonyveco, posted on Twitter November 14, 2019 U.S. time.
So far in this fire season in New South Wales (NSW) Australia, which officially runs from October 1 to March 31, six people have lost their lives, four in the last week or so. The NSW Rural Fire Service reports that 259 homes have been destroyed in the state since last Friday, but more than 2,100 in the direct path of the fire were saved.
As of early Friday morning local time, more than 1,300 firefighters are working on 35 uncontained bushfires in NSW, with five being at the Watch and Act alert level. The fire danger in the province is elevated on Friday with winds expected to reach 60 to 75 kph.
Late Wednesday night (U.S. Time) Air Tanker 911, a DC-10, was over the Pacific Ocean on the way to Australia when it had to return to its base in Albuquerque due to a problem with a radio. About 50 minutes after departing from San Bernardino the pilots discovered that the High Frequency radio used on long range international flights was not working, even though it appeared to have passed earlier tests on the ground. There had been no need for the HF radio on T-911 since its last international assignment approximately seven years ago. The radio was repaired by connecting the antenna cable and the new ETA at RAAF Richmond in New South Wales is Saturday morning, local time. (more information at FireAviation.com)
Due to an unusually high level of bushfire activity Australia has contracted for two additional air tankers to assist firefighters on the ground. Richard Alder, the General Manager of the National Aerial Firefighting Centre (NAFC), said the aircraft were added using the NAFC’s system of Enhanced Call When Needed (EWCN) contracts.
On November 12, U.S. time, Tanker 911, a DC-10, was loading spare parts onto the aircraft and is expected to be fire-ready in Richmond, New South Wales on November 16. It is supplied by Agair/10 Tanker. The DC-10 is considered a Very Large Air Tanker and can carry up to 9,400 gallons (35,582 liters).
The other EWCN air tanker added to the fleet is a Coulson C-130Q with an enter on duty date of November 29, also at Richmond. It usually carries around 3,500 gallons (13,248 liters).
There are also changes on the rotor wing side. One of the most significant additions is a ECWN contract for a Blackhawk with long line bucket based at Toowoomba in Queensland. The helicopter is suppled through Kestrel Aviation (who are partnered with BHI2/Brainerd).
Recent additions bring the total number of firebombing aircraft in Australia to 63 fixed wing and 45 rotor wing. There are an additional 51 aircraft used for other fire-related missions.
New South Wales has been experiencing hot, dry weather for several days, resulting in numerous bushfires that have burned more than 100 homes. On Monday November 11 local time there were 65 active fires in NSW with about half of those being uncontained, while 10 have risen to the “Watch and Act” alert level.
“We are in uncharted territory,” said NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. “We have never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level.”
Conditions are going to get even worse. The weather forecast for Tuesday, November 12 predicts fire danger that according to the NSW Rural Fire Service will be at the “catastrophic” level. Residents in some areas are being advised to evacuate before the extreme conditions hit even if there are no fires nearby.
Many of the currently active fires are across the north coast and northern NSW areas and will not be contained by the time the extreme fire weather strikes on Tuesday. Under these conditions, the fires will spread quickly, threatening homes and lives. The fire danger will be as bad, if not worse, than that experienced on Friday as it will be across a much broader area including large population centers like Sydney.
At a Monday press conference Premier Gladys Berejiklian said, “Stay away from bush lands tomorrow”. Due to the dangerous fire risk and extreme conditions she said she had declared a state of emergency. It is the first state of emergency in NSW since October, 2013, when major bushfires swept the state during similar weather conditions.
“Tomorrow we are facing horrendous conditions, life is at risk when it comes to catastrophic conditions,” said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons at the press conference. “We cannot guarantee a fire truck at every home. We cannot guarantee an aircraft will be overhead when a fire is impacting on your property. We cannot guarantee that someone will knock on your door and give you a warning that there’s fires nearby. And we certainly cannot guarantee that despite our best efforts the technological tools available will deliver you a message in time.
“We know the fires on the north coast are not going to be contained ahead of [Tuesday’s] weather which means those fires are going to spread, they are going to spread quickly, and they are going to spread aggressively,” the Commissioner continued. “The risk is real to pretty much any community in or around the proximity of all those fires burning on the north areas of New South Wales particularly given the forecast of hot temperatures and dry winds dominating out of the west or northwesterly areas. You can pretty much guarantee anybody to the east or southeast as a predominant pattern will certainly be at risk from the fires on the north coast tomorrow.”