West Australian town of Northcliffe is “indefensible” from approaching bushfire

Northcliffe bushfire
In this NASA image acquired February 1, 2015 smoke from a large fire burning near Northcliffe in Western Australia can be seen being pushed into the Indian Ocean by a strong northeast wind. Red outlines indicate hot spots where MODIS detected unusually warm surface temperatures associated with fire. A high-res (2 MB) version of the photo is available.

All 400 residents of the town of Northcliffe in Western Australia have been urged to evacuate due to a nearby bushfire that has burned 25,000 hectares (61,000 acres) 350 kilometers (217 miles) southeast of Perth. The fire has been burning for five days pushed primarily by a northeast wind. However the wind has shifted and is now coming out of the south and is expected to change on Wednesday to a southwest wind, both of which will push the fire closer to the town, and ultimately change the direction of spread by 180 degrees. In addition, predicted thunderstorms could bring stronger, more unpredictable winds that could result in extreme fire behavior, complicate fire suppression efforts, and compromise the safety of firefighters.

Below are excerpts from an article at ABC.NET in Australia:

…Meanwhile authorities have told residents who chose to remain in Northcliffe, about 350 kilometres south of Perth, there was no prospect of bringing the blaze threatening the town under control in the near future. Smoke and embers were blown back into the small community by a southerly wind, with the fire front about 5 kilometres from the town as of 3:00pm.

Firefighters battled to protect the western line of the blaze to try to stop it sweeping through the town, but it will be pressured by a southerly wind further into the afternoon and evening. The Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) said a prevailing south-westerly wind forecast for Wednesday could be potentially catastrophic as the northern flank of the fire would be opened up to blowback.

Firefighters said they had no resources to deal with the eastern end of the fire, where the blaze started, which could become the front of the fire in the case of a wind change.

About 240 firefighters were at the scene, as were 60 support staff. One property – an unoccupied farmhouse – was destroyed by the flames on Monday.

The video below is a report from the field about the fire.

The next video includes maps of several fires in Western Australia.

Wildfire briefing, January 30, 2015

Fire near Lake Disston, Florida

Fire near Lake Disston FL

Kenny Arnaldi took this photo Wednesday of a wildfire a mile south of Lake Disston, Florida.

Bushfire burns into Waroona in Western Australia

 bushfire threatening Waroona
A bushfire threatening Waroona, about 100 kilometers south of Perth.

A large bushfire has burned into the city of Waroona in Western Australia about 100 kilometers south of Perth. (Map)

Below is an excerpt from an article at abc.net.au updated at about 4 p.m. MST, January 30, 2015:

An out-of-control bushfire is threatening lives and homes at Waroona in Western Australia, with up to three properties believed to be damaged so far. The blaze has entered the town, which is about 100 kilometres south of Perth, and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES) has warned it is moving fast in a north-westerly direction. Embers are likely to be blown around homes, starting spot fires.

DFES duty assistant commissioner Chris Arnol said residents should take their location into consideration when planning how to respond.

“It depends on where they are. We’ve asked some residents to shelter in place which is the best option for them and others to evacuate to [an evacuation centre in the nearby town of Harvey],” he said. “People should have their fire plans ready and know what to do. We’ve got about 150 firefighters. We had 21 appliances on the fire and we’ve sent a further 24 from the metropolitan area.”

Oklahoma grass fires

Firefighters responding to a fire southwest of Tulsa observed a person setting one of eight grass fires that were burning in the area. More information is in the video below.

Update on the Kīlauea volcano lava flow
Kīlauea volcano
The image above released by US Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on January 29 shows the lava flow front from the Kīlauea volcano a mere 550 yards away from Highway 130 at its closest point. The distal tips are stalled, however “breakouts persist upslope,” writes USGS, “and these areas of activity can be spotted in this photograph by small smoke plumes where the lava is burning vegetation on the flow margins.”

Mississippi wildfire threatens natural gas facilities
A wildfire in Simpson County Mississippi (map) burned over an underground natural gas pipeline and came close to an above ground gas substation.

Below are excerpts from an article at WSMV:

“If it blows up down here, won’t nobody be left in Simpson County,” said resident Gurston McDonald.

McDonald lives just down the road from where a fire ripped through several acres of grass and forest, stopping just a few feet shy of a natural gas substation.

“All these gas lines coming through is a great concern,” added McDonald.

Simpson County EOC Director Glen Jennings said at least three fires broke out Thursday afternoon. However, the one off the highway posed the biggest danger to neighboring residents. Containing it also remained a challenge, because forestry officials can’t dig a fire line when there’s a gas line underneath.

“We don’t push on these gas lines. We just let it go, try to control it by water or some other means,” said Ben Vanderford with the Mississippi Forestry Commission. “We never know how deep those lines are, when we’re out there plowing these fire lines. These lines may be five or six feet under the ground, they might be five or six inches under the ground.”

And as night fell, flames spread again toward the substation, this time from a patch of trees about 200 feet away, with no fire line to stop it.


Wildfire briefing, January 14, 2015

Hawaii’s Kīlauea volcano lava ignites brush fire

A lava flow from the Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii ignited a brush fire on Tuesday that burned 270 acres. It was surrounded by fire breaks, but at 5:30 p.m. local time a dozer was working to clean up the existing break and construct a new line closer to the head of the fire. According to a Hawaii County Civil Defense update, the brush fire was west of Highway 130, about 1.5 miles from the Aina­loa subdivision. The agency said Tuesday afternoon that neither the brush fire nor the stalled lava flow pose an immediate threat to communities.

Granite Mountain Hotshots’ families treated to European boat trip

From the Daily Courier:

The families of Prescott’s fallen [Granite Mountain] Hotshots participated in a unique trip over the holidays. They were given an opportunity to see and visit the historic sites along Europe’s Danube River while finding solace amongst others who also have experienced the tragic loss of loved ones in recent U.S. tragedies.

Family members of the Hotshots were joined by family members of the victims of the 9/11 tragedy and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots died battling the Yarnell Hill wildfire on June 30, 2013 in the worst wildland firefighting tragedy in more than 80 years…

The paper said 19 family members participated in the trip.

News from Australia:

Firefighters stop a 16,000-acre fire in Western Australia

Bullsbrook fire smoke

Firefighters have stopped the spread of a fire that burned 16,300 acres (6,600 hectares) in Western Australia north of Perth. At one point the fire was described as having an 18-kilometer wide front.

Bullsbrook fire map

Below is an excerpt from an article at Australia’s ABC news, published Sunday morning MST in the US:

A bushfire in the northern Perth suburb of Bullsbrook has been downgraded to a watch and act after firefighters controlled the blaze.

The fire was upgraded to an emergency warning on Sunday, after a wind change drove the blaze north-east, but at 9:00pm (AWST) the Department of Fire and Emergency (DFES) advised the fire was contained and stationary.

“Firefighters have been working very, very hard over night, strengthening containment lines – they’ve actually widened them considerably,” Mr Allen Gale, spokesman for WA’s DFES said.

“That’ll reduce the risk of fire hopping over into another area, particularly an area where there’s unburnt fuel.”

However, the fire is still not contained and remains a possible threat to lives and homes, the DFES said. Firefighters are expecting the wind to shift from south-westerly to easterly overnight, which means the fire may be moving in a westerly direction by morning.

Mr Gale confirmed it could be days before the fire is blacked out completely.

So far the fire has burnt 6,600 hectares of land and damaged two derelict homes and five sheds. On Sunday afternoon there was a risk the northern flank could become the new head of the fire and push north into suburbs including Chittering and Muchea, the Department of Fire and Emergency (DFES) said.

The video below shows a map of the fire from many different angles:

Bullsbrook fire radar Bullsbrook fire camels

Firefighters entrapped in engine near Perth, Australia

Bindoon  Bushfire Brigade truck damaged
The fire-damaged Toyota Land Cruiser, of the Bindoon Bushfire Brigade in Western Australia. Photo: Department of Fire and Emergency Services

From The Guardian:

“Two volunteer firefighters were trapped in a burning ute while fighting a bushfire at a Department of Defence facility east of Perth [ in Western Australia (WA)] on Tuesday. Emergency services minister Joe Francis said the Bindoon Bushfire Brigade volunteers were forced to shelter in their LandCruiser after being surrounded by flames.

It’s one of the most potentially serious incidents survived by firefighters in a week that has seen 40 firefighters injured while fighting the Sampson Flat fire in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia, and a Victorian firefighter receive facial burns while fighting a grassfire.

Francis said he did not yet know how the volunteers had become trapped or why they were working in an area that became dangerous.

“Any fire is unfortunately very unpredictable in its behaviour,” he said.

“They were in a situation where they could not move their light tanker out of the way of the fire, the fire came towards them, and they deployed their fire protection gear.

“I can tell you they were in a situation they couldn’t get out of, otherwise they would have just driven away.”

Francis said the volunteer firefighters were “unharmed but very shaken”. The Department of Fire and Emergency Services is conducting a review into the incident.

The light tanker they were driving – a LandCruiser ute with a 600 litre tank on the back – is one of the WA fire trucks that has been fitted with extensive crew protection gear after the death of a firefighter in a burnover incident near Albany in 2012.

Wendy Bearfoot, 45, died and several other firefighters were injured after their trucks were trapped during the Black Cat Creek fire.

A Dfes review of the Albany incident found that WA was “out of step” with other states in providing crew protection in vehicles, and said all vehicles entering the fire ground should have one fire blanket per person and roll-down radiant heat shields “as a minimum requirement.”

The Barnett government committed to fulfil that recommendation at the 2013 state election. Francis said that so far all 1,200 fire trucks in WA had heat blankets, and “a few hundred” had heat shields and critical component lagging, which protects the electrical and mechanical components of the truck. He said the full fleet would be protected by the 2017 election.

The state opposition has criticised the government for the time taken to install adequate fire protection.”

Bushfire threatens community near Perth, Australia

Whiteman Park Fire, Perth, Australia

In spite of these very impressive photos of a bushfire in Australia, the reports we have seen indicate that it started Sunday morning and had been knocked down but not contained by nightfall — no homes had been lost at that time. The fire was fought by several fire crews and water-dropping helicopters. It burned at least 140 hectares (346 acres) northeast of Perth in Western Australia.

Perth fire
Bushfire northeast of Perth in Western Australia. Photo by Cate White.

Whiteman Park Fire, Perth, Australia Whiteman Park Fire, Perth, Australia Whiteman Park Fire, Perth, Australia