Bushfires across Victoria

There are many bushfires burning in Victoria and New South Wales. I am currently rebuilding my computer after wiping it and re-installing everything, so in the interests of time, below are some images sent by some folks down under recently. You should be able to get a sense of what some of the fires are like.

 

Wildfire briefing, October 29, 2013

Smoke creates health problems in Australia

Smoke from wildfires and prescribed fires is being blamed for increased visits to hospitals in New South Wales. On Monday when air quality was at its worst, the number of people treated for asthma in hospitals more than doubled. In recent weeks Sydney has been inundated with smoke from bushfires, but since the weather moderated a week or so ago smoke from prescribed fires, or “backburns”, has replaced it.

Landowners are motivated to use fire to reduce the hazards around their property by insurance companies that impose higher premiums if they don’t have a buffer around their improvements. Some of them are taking advantage of the favorable weather to conduct the backburns before the normal beginning of the bushfire season in December.

Australian government warns operators of UAVs who operate over fires

In what may be a reaction to a stunning video and others taken by unmanned aerial vehicles over bushfires, Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority issued a warning to the operators of small UAVs, saying they are putting fire fighting operations at risk and should be aware of appropriate regulations.

Catastrophic wildfires in Colorado ignite new center for managing ‘WUI’ wildfire risk

Colorado State University’s Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship is launching a new center dedicated to creating and applying the next generation of wildfire management solutions. The Center for Managing Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) Wildfire Risk will provide science-based answers to critical questions raised by the most destructive wildfires in Colorado’s history. The Center for Managing WUI Wildfire Risk will provide science-based answers to critical questions raised by the most destructive wildfires in Colorado’s history.

Catching up with Fire Aviation

Recent articles at Fire Aviation:

  • Disney to release animated wildfire aviation movie
  • V-22 Tilt-Rotor Osprey as a firefighting aircraft
  • K-MAX helicopter converted to unmanned aircraft system
  • Slow-motion video of Lockheed Electra L-188 retardant drops
  • 10 Tanker Air Carrier moves to Albuquerque, begins converting a third DC-10
  • Two Aircraft crashes in Australia connected to bushfires
  • Stunning UAV video of bushfire
  • Airliner painted to honor FDNY firefighters
  • Airbus begins tests of C295 air tanker
  • 2013 Airtanker and Water Scooper Forum

Prescribed fire projects underway

Pile burning, Grand Canyon
Pile burning on the Bright Angel project, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, October 24, 2013. NPS photo.
Prescribed fire Shasta-Trinity National Forest
Shasta-Trinity National Forest, October 21, 2013. USFS photo.
Prescribed fire on the Helena National Forest
Prescribed fire on the Helena National Forest, Helena Ranger District. USFS photo.

Report of fatal air tanker crash in Australia


Several media sources in Australia are reporting that an air tanker crashed west of Ulladulla in New South Wales and the pilot, the only person on board, has been confirmed dead. The Australian network ABC reported that a wing snapped off the aircraft before it went down.

The aircraft was fighting a fire in very rugged and steep terrain near Wirritin Mountain about 15 nautical miles west of Ulladulla when it went down at about 10:10 a.m. AEDT on Thursday.

The crash started another bushfire which, along with high winds, was hampering efforts to reach the pilot. Other firefighting aircraft were called to the area and were attempting to slow the spread of the fire.

Our sincere condolences go out to the family and coworkers of the pilot.

****

UPDATE AT 12:51 p.m. MDT, October 24, 2013: A second aircraft has crashed in Australia. In this case it was a light plane supporting the firefighting effort. More information is at Fire Aviation.

 

Thanks go out to Ken

Previous assignments of U.S. firefighters to Australia

The United States has sent firefighters to Australia to assist with bushfires twice in the last five years.

U.S. firefighters in Australia
U.S. firefighters in Victoria, Australia, February, 2009. Photo by Wol Worrell.

With the bushfire season in southeast Australia heating up much earlier than normal, some are wondering if the United States is going to send wildland firefighters down under to give them a hand. In the last eight years this has happened four times, in 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2010. At least two of those deployments were in January and February during their fire season that typically runs from December through February. With this very unusual October siege underway in New South Wales, which has been described as the worst wildfire conditions in more than 40 years, and with more than 200 homes destroyed, these conditions are an outlier, very different from the normal fire occurrence.

We checked with our sources in Boise and there are no immediate plans underway to send American firefighters to Australia. But the down under bushfire season has not even officially started — it could be an interesting summer below the equator.

In February, 2009, the United States sent 60 wildfire specialists to Victoria to assist with operations, planning and logistics. That included two thirteen-person teams specializing in rehabilitating burned areas, and one 20-person suppression team. I believe the “suppression team” was a thrown-together group of experienced firefighters formed into a crew, since no hotshot crews were on duty in February. More information about that deployment is HERE, HERE, and HERE.

In January, 2010, the United States again sent firefighters to Australia. That time it was approximately 17 people, with most of them being assigned within Victoria. Some details about that trip are HERE, HERE, and HERE.

The international assistance has worked in both directions. In July, 2008, 44 Australian and New Zealand firefighters came to the United States to assist with fires in California. The first deployment of firefighters from Australia to the U.S. was in 2000.

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.