Until two to three weeks ago most of the bushfire activity in Australia was concentrated in New South Wales, but in January firefighters further south in Victoria became increasingly busy.
Most of these photos (except as noted) were posted on the Twitter account of Chris Hardman, the Chief Fire Officer for Forest Fire Management Victoria.
One thing to keep in mind is that when wildland firefighters are actively working to contain a fire they usually do not have time to pull out a camera or smart phone and take pictures. So most of what you see from the front lines are from when they are taking a well-deserved break.
About the next three photos, Chief Hardman wrote:
Driving greater female participation in fire fighting and fire mgt, has paid off, our women are Sector Commanders, Div Coms, Crew Leaders, General FIre Fighters, Dozer Operators, Fallers, IMTs and Air Ops. They are an inspiration to others.
Smoke from bushfires in Victoria, Australia has degraded the air quality to levels that are dangerous in some areas.
If the Air Quality Index used by Air-Quality.com for the map above is the same used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the air quality in the east corner of Victoria near Mallacoota is off the scale, beyond “hazardous”, with an air quality index of 769 at one location.
In the Melbourne area (the cluster of AQI readings in the lower-left corner) the map shows some levels above 200 which is the beginning of the Very Unhealthy for Everyone category; 300 to 500 is Hazardous, and over 500 must be a ridiculous category that the US EPA assumed would never occur. (see the chart below)
From NPR, January 14, 2020:
Smoke from massive wildfires in Australia hangs like a blanket over the city of Melbourne. The smog there is so thick that some of the world’s top athletes have raised alarms about player safety at the Australian Open tennis tournament, slated to kick off next week.
The air quality in Melbourne on Wednesday was forecast to be “very poor to hazardous,” according to the Environment Protection Authority in Victoria state.
The hazardous breathing conditions prompted Australian Open officials to suspend practice sessions Tuesday. But qualifying matches went on as scheduled, and one of the players later said it was “not fair” that they were asked to compete.
That player, Slovenia’s Dalila Jakupovic, was leading 6-4, 5-6 in her match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele when she was overtaken by a fit of coughing and dropped to her knees. Her breathing difficulties forced her to forfeit, handing the victory to Voegele.
Predicted rain and cooler temperatures this week in Australia could slow the spread of the bushfires in Victoria and New South Wales. The heaviest rain will be on the east coast where some areas could receive over two inches while the forecast on the west side of the two states is for much less or perhaps none.
The rain is the product of a deep inland trough drawing humid air into the system.
Small amounts of rain will not put out the fires, but could make them partially dormant for a period of days, giving firefighters time to regroup and construct firelines on portions of the perimeters. But many of the fires are far too large to ever be completely encircled by firelines.
Some of the rain will come in the form of thunderstorms, leading to the possibility of flash flooding, landslides, and fallen trees.
The rain will be welcomed by residents and especially farmers in the drought-stricken communities.
The bushfires in Australia have claimed the life of a fifth firefighter. It occurred Saturday January 11 while a firefighter was working on a fire in the Omeo area of Victoria, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp has confirmed.
Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman said, “Bill Slade was working as a member of a task force at the Anglers Rest area and he was struck by a tree.”
“Family and fellow emergency personnel are being informed and will be supported,” he said. “The safety and wellbeing of our people is our highest priority. The matter will be investigated by Victoria Police who will prepare a report for the Coroner.”
Mr. Slade, 60, had worked for 40 years as a firefighter with Parks Victoria. He is survived by his wife Carol, daughter Steph and son Ethan.
Our sincere condolences go out to the family, friends, and co-workers.
Other recent firefighter fatalities in Australia:
January 3, 2020: Victoria Forest Fires Management worker Mat Kavanagh, 43, died on duty in a two vehicle crash on the Goulburn Valley Highway, in Victoria. His colleague was injured.
December 30, 2019: New South Wales Rural Fire Service volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul died when a fire tornado or column collapse flipped his fire engine in New South Wales. Two other firefighters were also injured.
December 19, 2019: Andrew O’Dwyer and Geoffrey Keaton were killed while working on the Green Wattle Creek Bushfire when their truck hit a tree near Buxton in southwestern Sydney, New South Wales. They were both volunteer firefighters for the NSW Rural Fire Service.
At least 27 people have died in the Australia bushfires during the 2019/2020 bushfire season.
Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom. Typos or errors, report them HERE.
PHOENIX – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as well as other Department of the Interior agencies and the U.S. Forest Service have been sending wildfire personnel from across the United States to assist with ongoing wildfire suppression efforts in Australia. The BLM in Arizona currently has four fire personnel in Australia with plans to send more in the coming weeks.
Brady Shultz, from BLM Arizona’s Colorado River District in Kingman, and Koreena Haynes from the BLM Arizona State Office in Phoenix, deployed just after the new year to assist on fire engines in the Australian state of Victoria. Cody Goff from BLM Arizona’s Arizona Strip District in St. George, Utah, and John Garrett from BLM Arizona’s Gila District in Safford deployed on January 7 as part of a 20-person firefighter hand crew.
“Australia has come to help us when we needed an extra hand during our most extreme fire seasons, now it’s our turn to go help them in their time of need,” said Kelly Castillo, BLM Arizona’s state fire management officer.
Based on requests from the Australian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council, the U.S. has intermittently deployed more than 150 wildland fire personnel since December.
The fire personnel from the U.S. have assisting with critical needs for mid-level fire management roles including fire engine operations, aviation operations, fire operations managers, logistical management specialists, and strategic fire planners. More recent deployments have included requests for 20-person firefighting crews and chain saw operators.
“We are in the process of filling more requests for Arizona personnel, which will likely deploy as soon as next week,” said Castillo.
The U.S., Australia and New Zealand have been exchanging fire assistance for more than 15 years. The most recent exchange occurred in August of 2018, when 138 Australian and New Zealand wildfire management personnel were sent to the U.S. for almost 30 days to assist with wildfire suppression efforts in Northern California and the Northwest. The last time the U.S sent firefighters to Australia was in 2010.
From the Bureau of Land Management, Arizona State Office
Six bushfires in two Australian states have merged, forming a huge blaze covering 1,532,484 acres (632,315 hectares) slightly smaller than the size of Delaware in the United States. The fires in Victoria and New South Wales met near Jingellic NSW between Canberra and Albury.
NAME HECTARES Dunns Road, 316,754 Doubtful Gap Trail, 48,918 Adaminaby Complex, 28,640 Green Valley, Talmalmo, 233,390 Mount Youngal, 1,000 Pilot Lookout, 3,613
TOTAL: 632,315 hectares (1,532,484 acres)
Below is an excerpt from an article at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation updated Friday night local time:
Firefighters are bracing for a difficult night ahead amid the formation of a second “mega-blaze” and a southerly change sweeping up the New South Wales coast, bringing gusts of up to 90 kilometres per hour.
Emergency warnings were issued earlier for the Dunns Road fire burning near Ellerslie and Tarcutta in the Snowy Valleys, as well as the Green Valley Talmalmo fire and the adjoining East Ournie Creek fire, burning east of Albury.
All three fires have now joined to form the state’s second “mega-blaze” and now covers more than 640,000 hectares, straddling the New South Wales and Victorian borders.
NSW Rural Fire Service Inspector Ben Shepherd said warnings for the blaze had been upgraded in anticipation of the southerly hitting the area around midnight and he warned residents to monitor conditions as the front moved through.
In a Facebook post, Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill told locals it had been a “hard day” for the region ahead of a “night of vigilance for us all”.
“We were worried it would be a hard day. That has been the case,” he wrote.
“We have had fire activity in the Grose Valley a few kilometres from Faulconbridge. This was air-attacked throughout the afternoon. Work will continue tomorrow.
“Crews are working hard to manage this activity. They will have a long night … I am sorry the news is not better but tonight is a night of vigilance for us all.”
NASA has released an animation showing smoke from the Australian fires reaching across the Pacific to South America.
NASA’s description of the video:
“The animation shows RGB color images from NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instrument on NASA’s Aqua satellite for December 31, 2019 through January 5, 2020. A plume of brown smoke extends from the southeastern coast of Australia, over the Tasman Sea and beyond into the Pacific Ocean.
“The overlaid vertical cross sections show CALIPSO lidar observations for these same days. The bright colors indicate the presence of small particles (aerosols) and the white color indicates clouds. Visible in each of the cross sections near 40 degrees south is a thick layer of smoke from the fires at altitudes above 9 miles (14.5 km). The dark shading below these layers is due to the absence of lidar signals below the opaque smoke layers. These layers contain very small particles and have optical properties similar to smoke.
“The sequence of CALIPSO and MODIS tracks in the animation indicates the continued transport of the smoke layer to the east. As of Jan. 5, 2020, smoke was detected more than 4,000 miles from the source.