Two people were found dead on Kangaroo Island south of Adelaide, South Australia.
From the Australian Broadcasting Corporation:
An experienced pilot and his son have been killed in catastrophic bushfires that have ravaged more than a third of Kangaroo Island and destroyed homes and businesses. The family of tour operator and aviator Dick Lang has confirmed he perished in the blaze, along with his youngest son Clayton — a leading plastic surgeon who specialised in hand surgery. Dick Lang, 78, ran his own flight adventure business out of Adelaide Airport and was described as one of the nation’s “best bush pilots”.
Dick Lang lived and worked in the outback for most of his life, securing him the nickname ‘Desert’. His 43-year-old son was supervisor of surgical training at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, his family said. Dick Lang had flown rescue operations in desert regions and over Papua New Guinea.
“He loved the bush, he loved adventure and he loved Kangaroo Island,” his family said.
“Dick and Clayton were prominent members of the South Australian community who rose to the top in their chosen professions.”
Police said the men died on the Playford Highway in the centre of the island, and that one of the victims was found inside a car.
In a statement, the Lang family said the men were returning to the family property on Kangaroo Island January 4 after fighting a nearby fire for two days.
This brings the death toll in the Australian fires up to 23 people, which includes three firefighters.
High humidities and a 2.5mm of rain Saturday morning slowed the spread of the Ravine Fire on Kangaroo Island. South Australia’s Country Fire Service said the two major fires on the island have burned more than 170,000 hectares (420,000 acres) which is 39 percent of the 88-mile long island. Many structures have burned or been damaged, including Kangaroo Island’s Visitor and Information Center, the KI Wilderness Retreat, and Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. The Premier, Steven Marshall, said all buildings in the island’s Flinders Chase National Park had been “very extensively” damaged. It has been confirmed that the Southern Ocean Lodge, the high-end resort on the southwest coast that charges over $1,000 a night, suffered severe damage.
The bushfires in Victoria and New South Wales continue to spread and force residents and vacationers from homes and resorts.
Naval vessels are being used to rescue those who were forced to flee to the coastal beaches. Small boats are ferrying them out to a ship in deeper water where those who are willing and able have to climb a ladder up to the much larger vessel built to carry 300 soldiers and 23 tanks. It is expected the ship will transport about 800 evacuees. Those who can’t board the ship and still want to leave, may be removed from the burnt-over area by helicopters, but visibility degraded by smoke could make flying difficult.
In addition to the ships and helicopters being used for evacuation the New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons was blindsided upon finding out from the media that Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Saturday afternoon that 3,000 ADF reservists would be brought in to help with bushfire recovery efforts and $20 million would be provided for leasing four additional firefighting aircraft. Defense Minister Linda Reynolds said it was the first time that reservists had been called up “in this way in living memory and, in fact, I believe for the first time in our nation’s history.”
John Gould, President of 10 Tanker, said their company will be sending two more DC-10 Very Large Air Tankers to Australia as soon as the heavy maintenance presently underway is complete. He expects Tanker 912 to arrive in Australia on January 15 to be followed 10 days later by Tanker 914. They will join Tanker 911 that arrived in November. The DC-10 can carry up to 9,400 gallons of water or retardant.
Mr Fitzsimons said while he was thankful for the support, logistics would be complicated.
“I was disappointed and frustrated in the middle of one of our worst days with massive dislocation and movement of people,” he said. “I had my conversations with the Prime Minister’s office.”
As predicted, the weather Saturday in southeast Australia was hot, dry, and windy, setting temperature records in several locations — 120F degrees in Penrith and 111F in Canberra..
One of the first clues that the bushfire season in eastern Australia was going to be abnormal was when the 737 air tanker just purchased by the government began to be used on a fairly regular basis shortly after it arrived during the southern hemisphere winter. It made its first drop on August 8, 2019 more than three months before summer began.
Since that first drop the intensity of the fire season slowly grew during the rest of the winter and fall, and by the end of November was in full swing showing signs of what has become an unprecedented fire season.
The hot, dry, and windy conditions predicted for Saturday could make a bad situation worse. At Canberra, the capital, the wind will shift 180 degrees in the morning to come out of the northwest at 20 mph. The temperature will max out under mostly sunny skies at 105F with the relative humidity in the lower teens.
Based on the expected conditions, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service is recommending that holiday makers leave certain areas before burning conditions become even more dangerous on Saturday. Some of the “Tourist Leave Zones” include Khancoban, Snow Monaro, Shoalhaven, Batlow, Wondalga, and South Coast.
Here is an example:
Leave Zone – Shoalhaven Widespread extreme Fire Danger forecast for Shoalhaven Sat 4 Jan 2020. If you’re holidaying in areas identified on the map, you need to leave before Saturday. Residents should be aware & prepare. For road closure info @LiveTrafficNSW#nswrfs#nswfirespic.twitter.com/rmDW7tZlnp
Navy ships have been mobilized to help feed and evacuate the evacuees, but it’s not as easy as it might seem. One of the first tasks is to determine who among the thousands at Mallacoota, Victoria, are willing and able to climb a ladder from a small boat up to the much larger Navy vessel built to carry 300 soldiers and 23 tanks. It is expected to transport about 800 evacuees. Those who can’t board the ship and still want to leave, may be removed from the burnt-over area by helicopters, but visibility degraded by smoke could make flying difficult.
Since Australia does not have a central point for collecting and distributing information about widespread bushfires, exact numbers are difficult to obtain, but on the continent between July and December approximately 12 million acres (4.8 million hectares) burned, the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.
In New South Wales alone as of January 1, 2020, the numbers of destroyed structures include 916 homes, 73 facilities, and 2,107 outbuildings.
There have been approximately 17 deaths related to the fires in Australia, including three firefighters.
Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons on Tuesday described the crisis as the “worst bushfire season on record”.
Meanwhile, two senior members of the government decided it was a good time to take vacations. The New South Wales Emergency Services Minister, David Elliot, came back home from the UK shortly after his personal trip was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald. Earlier he had said, according to the newspaper, that he would return “if the bushfire situation should demand it.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison cut his Hawaii vacation short following intense criticism.