Tasmania cools, but fire threat continues

This video about the fire situation in Australia has some excellent footage of driving at night through an area that is burning. It was uploaded to YouTube on January 9, 2013 by ITN with the description: “Australia’s record-breaking heatwave has sent temperatures soaring, melting road tar and setting off hundreds of wildfires. Report by Lindsay Brown.”

The next video was also uploaded to YouTube on January 9, 2013.

Videos, Australia’s bush fires

Australia is currently experiencing record heat and numerous bush fires. This first video is a must see. It describes how a family fled their Dunalley, Tasmania home as a rapidly spreading fire approached, and took refuge in the ocean or a lake (I’m not sure which). Some of them remained submerged up to their chest for three hours while they waited for conditions to moderate. The video is about 10 minutes long, but worth it.

This next video was uploaded Monday, January 7 (Australia time), and describes the “catastrophic” fire danger that is predicted for Tuesday. It could be the most extreme bush fire burning conditions in decades for Australia, and features an interview with Rob Rogers, Deputy Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

And last, the Premier of Tasmania, Laura Giddings, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard speak about the fires. The Prime Minister mentions the “great mate ship” with the people of Tasmania.


One hundred missing after fires in Tasmania

Map of Inala Road fire, Tasmania
Map of Inala Road fire (shown in brown), east of Hobart, Tasmania. Updated at 1:07 a.m. local time, January 7, 2013

Police in Tasmania are attempting to locate up to 100 people that are still unaccounted for in areas that have burned in the bushfires on the island south of Australia. The largest, the Inala Road Fire, is burning about 32 Kilometers (20 miles) east of Hobart on the Tasman Peninsula and in or near the communities ofTaranna, Lewisham,Dunalley, Copping, Forcett, Connellys Marsh, Dodges Ferry, Eaglehawk Neck, Primrose Sands,Murdunna,Boomers Bay,Bream Creek and Sommers Bay.

Many tourists were stranded on the Tasman Peninsula, unable to return home due to closed roads. Commercial and private vessels transported about 2,500 of them back to the mainland while an estimated 2,000 are being housed at the Nubeena Refuge Centre, about 600 at Port Arthur and another 100 at the Dunalley Hotel.

Approximately 100 structures have burned in the fires which are still burning out of control. No deaths have been confirmed, but Tasmania Police are conducting house to house searches.

The Inala Road fire has burned 19,214 hectares (47,478 acres). The Dawson Road Lake Repulse fire, about 48 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of Hobart, has blackened 9,895 hectares (24,451 acres). Firefighters from other Australian states have been arriving to help fight four fires have burned a total of about 60,000 hectares (148,000 acres).

Wikipedia-style fire update for Inala Road Fire
Wikipedia-style (but analog) fire update for Inala Road Fire. Photo by j_fosk

Warwick Hughes contacted us to let us know he has been writing about the fires on his web site. He posted a link showing a recording of smoke showing up in weather radar (screen capture is below), as well as some weather data recorded in the community of Dunalley where many homes burned. The weather station showed a high temperature of 54.9C (131F) at 4:22 p.m. on January 4, which was undoubtedly affected by heat from the fire.

Smoke from Tasmania fires, detected by weather radar
Smoke from Tasmania fires, detected by weather radar.


Thanks go out to Dick, Kelly, and Warwick.

Fires rage across Tasmania

Pyrocumulus near Hobart, Tasmania
Pyrocumulus near Hobart, Tasmania, January 4, 2013. Photo by Mic and Jo Giuliani via Twitter

Large bushfires in Tasmania have destroyed scores of houses and caused many residents to evacuate or even take refuge on beaches or in the ocean. Australia’s ABC News reports the largest fires are impacting Eaglehawk Neck, Bream Creek, Copping, Boomer Bay and Dodges Ferry, south-east of Hobart, and Ellendale and Karanja in the Upper Derwent Valley.

One of the worst-hit areas is Dunalley, east of Hobart, (map) where a triage team from the Tasmania Police is assessing the situation. They will investigate a report that a fire crew was unable to reach a man who was defending his home when the fire passed over. A preliminary evaluation from an aircraft discovered that up to 65 structures have burned in Dunalley, 15 in nearby Boomer Bay, and an undetermined number of properties destroyed at Connelly’s Marsh, west of Dunalley.

Highest temperature ever recorded in Hobart

The intensity of the fires can be attributed in part to the highest temperature in 120 years of record keeping in Hobart, where it reached 41.3 degrees Celsuis (106F) on Friday. However, the strong winds and the high temperatures are beginning to ease. At midnight in Hobart it cooled off to 31C (87F).

Smoke fires Tasmania
Smoke from one of the fires in Tasmania as seen from the Elizabeth Street Pier in Hobart, Tasmania, Jan 4, 2013. Photo by Photographywithcassie, Instagram

From the Tasmania Police, regarding the fire in the Dunalley area:

Several groups of people sheltered safely in the area; about 50 people are safe in the Boomer Bay jetty area another group of people are safe at the Dunalley Hotel. A Police vessel is in the area, checking the shoreline for people who were reported to be sheltering in the water; no one has been located at this stage.

A helicopter has been working to evacuate anyone suffering heat distress or other health issues at the request of Tasmania Ambulance Service. Another helicopter has deployed response personnel and equipment into the area.

At present the police vessels are ferrying fuel, generators, medical supplies and other items to Dunalley, and the refuge centres at Nubeena. Police are also working with Telstra to transport generators and other equipment to commence restoration of communication where possible.

Tasmania Police is working with the Tasmania Fire Service to identify options to allow people to safely leave the Tasman Peninsula, or return to their homes. Efforts are being to reopen the Arthur Highway, however this will only occur when it is deemed to be safe.

An information hotline has been established; 1800 567 567.


Thanks go out to Chuck

Researchers study fire history in New Zealand and Tasmania

A new series of four short films helps citizens of the Rocky Mountain West understand how scientists study the impact of fire on ecosystems.

The films document a National Science Foundation-funded project called Wildfire PIRE – http://wildfirepire.org – an international partnership among Montana State University, the University of Colorado, the University of Idaho, the University of Tasmania (Australia) and the University of Auckland (New Zealand) along with other universities and agencies in the U.S. and abroad.

In 2010, researchers from the U.S. first traveled to Tasmania and New Zealand to collect data on the impacts of wildfire. Using tree ring cores and columns of mud drawn from lakes, the researchers can piece together the history of fire in different landscapes.

The data from the Southern Hemisphere will also help researchers make predictions about the impacts of fire in the Northern Rocky Mountains.

David Bowman
David Bowman, PhD

One of the four films is titled The (un)Luck of the Draw: Understanding Bushfire in Tasmania, and discusses how the disastrous fires of 1967, referred to as the Black Tuesday Bushfires, affected this island south of the Australian mainland (map). They were the most deadly fires that Tasmania has ever experienced, leaving 62 people dead, 900 injured and over seven thousand homeless within the space of five hours. They followed a very wet spring which produced a great deal of new vegetation growth. Then on a dry, windy February day, dozens of controlled burns, or “burn offs” were fanned into life, along with some other accidental ignitions, burning 2,640 square kilometers (652,360 acres).

In the video, David Bosman, PhD, from the University of Tasmania talks about the 1967 Black Tuesday Bushfires and the fact that it could happen again. Here is a portion of what he says in the film.

…When you know that 1967 happened, and you can see the legacy of it, and you know the terror and the shock it did to this community, and then you know a lot about fire as I do, and you see it’s very, very vulnerable, it’s basically surrounded by flammable bushland.

I’m afraid, and I’m surprised at how afraid I am.

In the deck there’s a card called 1967 Or Worse, and one day the card’s going to be dealt.

The scary thing is we don’t know how often these cards are in the deck. If we get something ’67 or worse, we could burn a quarter of the island down in three hours, and that means thousands of people will die. And I’m afraid of that.

You have to wonder… is there a deck of cards for the northwest United States with one of the cards called “1910 Or Worse”?

The other three films in the series can be found HERE.

Elephants and rhinoceroses for fire prevention?

African Bush ElephantA scientist in Australia has proposed that elephants and rhinoceroses be used in the Northern Territory of the country to reduce the intensity of wildfires. According to David Bowman, an environmental scientist at the University of Tasmania, this introduced exotic species would help control another introduced exotic species, gamba grass.

Gamba grass was brought into the country from Africa in the 1930s for cattle ranchers who said it produced more feed for livestock than native grasses. Since then the grass has spread across a large portion of Australia’s Northern Territory and burns very intensely. When gamba grass matures, it becomes tall and woody and is undesirable by cattle or native species like kangaroos. But back in Africa, elephants and rhinoceroses love the grass. Mr. Bowman thinks elephants and rhinos would reduce the grass enough to slow the spread and intensity of wildfires.

Australia is already spending millions of dollars to control the spread of other introduced species like camels and water buffaloes.

Mr. Bowman said rhinos and elephants could be sterilized so they could not reproduce, and they could be restricted by fences and tracked with radio collars.

What could possibly go wrong?