Fire names in Australia

Bush fire in Australia
Bush fire in Australia. Photo: NSW Rural Fire Service.

Kelly pointed out that some of the names of places in Australia, such as Warrumbungle National Park, can be interesting. I agree, and in search of a few more I perused a list of the names of this season’s fires on the New South Wales Rural Fire Service web site. Here are some that I noticed:

Monkey Top, Coonabarabran, Bugaldie, Tooraweenah, Bugaldi, Baan Baa, Yalambee, Ernies Flat, Boolcarrol, Sunnydowns, Mandurma, Nangar, Wearne’s Road, Moonbria, Nanima, Yulladunida, Quinytambie, Tinda Creek, Marrapina, Koonawarra,Munkartie, Mobla, Colong, Coybil, Glenirie, Umbango, Mates Gully, Wokolena, Nundle, Popodopoulos, Swampy Arm, Kiwarrak Cross Road, and Old Soldiers Firetrail.

Wildfire burns structures at observatory in New South Wales

Wambelong Fire, Siding Springs Observatory
The Wambelong Fire threatens the Siding Springs Observatory. Photo by New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

The Wambelong Fire has raged across 39,007 hectares (93,388 acres) in New South Wales (NSW) burning through Warrumbungle National Park and other lands west of Coonabarabran.

Siding Spring Observatory, post fire
Siding Spring Observatory, after the fire. Photo: NWS RFS

NSW Rural Fire Service Building Impact Assessment Teams have confirmed 33 structures in the Timor Road area have been destroyed, although this number is likely to change as crews continue their assessments. More than 50 outbuildings have also burned, as well as a large number of livestock and farm machinery.

Map, Wambelong Fire
Map of the Wambelong Fire, provided by the RFS, 1:25 a.m. January 15, 2013

Approximately five structures at the Siding Spring Observatory complex have been damaged or destroyed by the fire, including the visitor center and the lodge used as accommodations for visiting researchers. The main telescope has survived, although it is not known if it has been damaged.

The fire is spreading in a northerly direction away from Timor Road and the observatory and is currently burning in the Bugaldie area.

Properties to the west of the the Warrumbungle National Park may come under direct threat if firefighters cannot contain the fire on the western boundary of the National Park.

Approximately 83 firefighters supported by aircraft worked to establish containment lines throughout the afternoon and evening on Monday.

Siding Spring Observatory, after the fire
Siding Spring Observatory, after the fire, showing damaged to the lodge used as accommodations for visiting researchers. Photo: NSW RFS.

Below is a video news report about the fire.

New South Wales Operations Center

NSW Operations Centre
NSW Operations Center. Photo: NSW Rural Fire Service

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service has a very impressive Operations Center in Sydney, Australia which they activated on January 7 when the bush fire activity increased. The Center provides support and assistance to local Fire Control Centers and Incident Management Teams across the state.

As you can see, it has a HUGE video wall, which is reported to be the largest in the southern hemisphere. It has 100 individual LCD screens which can display either one large visual, such as a map, or up to 32 different inputs including graphs, statistics, weather predictions, and live feeds from various sites.

Does the dispatch center in your local area look pretty much like this?

NSW video screen


Myths about bush fires

Our friends in Australia seem to do a better job than we do in the United States of educating the public about being prepared for wildfires, or bush fires as they are known down under.

The Rural Fire Service of New South Wales in Australia has an interesting publication titled Myth Busters, covering some of the common myths about bush fires and bush fire safety. “Not knowing the facts can be life threatening for you and your family”.

Myths about wildfires, NSW RFSThe text on the image is a little hard to read, but here are the myths that are listed:

  • There will always be a fire truck available to fight a bush fire threatening my home.
  • It won’t happen to me.
  • Fire travels slower up hill.
  • I’ll be fine; the bush is a few streets away.
  • Standing on my roof and hosing it down with water will help.
  • Filling the bath tub when a fire is approaching is to sit in.
  • If I know the back streets in my suburb or town really well, it will be okay for me to leave at the very last minute.
  • A house can explode if it catches on fire.

HERE is a link to another publication about bush fire myths, this time from the state of Victoria. And another one from the Christmas Hills Fire Brigade in Victoria.

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.

Helicopter drops sewage on firefighters

A helicopter that was assisting firefighters suppressing a wildfire in New South Wales obtained water from a sewage treatment plant and dropped it on the fire. According to ABC News in Australia, Mark Hughes of the Australian Workers Union said Rural Fire Service (RFS) commanders directed the helicopter to use the sewage rather than other water sources such as  the Camden Haven River, Queens Lake or the Cowarra Dam.

There were two ponds at the sewage treatment facility near Port Macquarie, one with raw sewage and the other with treated water. The raw sewage used potentially affected up to 30 RFS firefighters. After using the contaminated water for three hours, a HAZMAT team shut down the site and talked to the firefighters.