2 firefighters critically burned in Western Australia

Two female firefighters in Western Australia (WA) are being treated in a Perth hospital after being entrapped and burned while fighting a fire in a pine plantation near Albany Friday night (map). According to WA Fire and Emergency Services Authority state duty director Bruce Jones the firefighters were from the Department of Environment and Conservation and the local bushfire brigade. In a statement Mr. Jones said, “Preliminary reports state that the firefighters were caught when strong winds caused the fire to suddenly change direction on a slope”.

Two Royal Flying Doctor Service aircraft transported the women to Perth. One aged 45 suffered burns to 60 per cent of her body and other aged 24 suffered burns to 40 per cent of her body, a Royal Flying Doctor Service spokeswoman said.

The fire, which is now contained, has burned about 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres) near the Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve east of Albany.

We will keep the two firefighters in our thoughts and hope for a speedy recovery.

Report issued about escaped prescribed fire in Western Australia

A report recently released about an escaped prescribed fire in Western Australia said some employees of the Department of Environment and Conservation are overworked and are performing above their skill levels. The prescribed fire in Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park escaped on November 23, 2011 and pushed by strong winds, destroyed 40 structures and burned over 8,400 acres. Residents who had refused to evacuate later had to take refuge from the fire on a beach. They were rescued by jet ski and ferried to a search and rescue boat offshore.

Here are some excerpts from an article at www.watoday.com.au

…The damning report by former Australian Federal Police commissioner Mick Keelty, released [February 23], found DEC made a series of omissions and mistakes during the planning and implementation of a prescribed burn that led to devastating consequences.

More than 40 properties were destroyed or damaged when the burn became out of control and raged across 3400 hectares.

Rather than pointing the blame on any individual, Mr Keelty said the errors that led to the bushfire were made by people making decisions beyond their expertise and using the available resources.

“Many officers are required to make decisions affecting the lives and livelihood of the community which, on the face of it, do not match their pay scale,” the report says.

The union representing most DEC employees, the Community and Public Sector Union, claims the poor resources at DEC have forced some employees to work in excessive of 36 hours without a break and many others to regularly work 20 hours.

When they finished their ordinary day job with the department they were then on-call in case of a bushfire outside of hours.

“They’ll go home and be on-call to manage a fire incident, whether it’s small or big,” state secretary Toni Walkington said.

“They’ll spend whatever amount of hours that it takes and then they’ll report back the next day and do their parks and services job. So they don’t get breaks and that’s because DEC isn’t funded to have more people in those fire roles.”

Ms Walkington said their jobs also were made more difficult because of a lack of technology, including no electronic operational processes, meaning staff still had to do paperwork by hand.

They were also reluctant to put themselves on the on-call roster or take responsibility for fires because some employees had been publicly named and identified during the Margaret River inquiry.

“The spotlight is on them and criticisms have been made,” Ms Walkington said.

August-Margaret River Shire Mayor Ray Colyer said DEC employees now feared walking the street in their work uniforms following community outrage over the department’s failure to contain the prescribed burn.


Thanks go out to Dick

Prescribed fire in Western Australia escapes, burns dozens of homes

A prescribed fire in Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park in Western Australia escaped on November 23 and has destroyed or heavily damaged 19 to 30 homes in the Prevelly area. Pushed by strong winds, the fire has burned at least 4,900 acres.

Fifty-five people that had refused to be evacuated later had to take refuge from the fire on a Prevelly beach. They were rescued by jet ski and ferried to a waiting search and rescue boat offshore. From there they were taken to nearby Gracetown and then bused to an emergency welfare center in Margaret River.

Four runners in ultramarathon trapped and burned in wildfire

Four runners competing in a 62-mile ultramarathon in Western Australia were trapped by a fire and seriously burned.

From the Herald Sun:

A VICTORIAN woman is fighting for her life in hospital after competing in an ultra-marathon ravaged by bushfire. The victim, named locally as 35-year-old Kate Sanderson from Mornington, is believed to have suffered between 60 to 80 per cent burns to her body. She was running the 100km course in far northern WA on Friday at 5pm when a wildfire trapped her and three others in a small gorge near Kununurra.

Turia Pitt, a 24-year-old originally from NSW, is also in a critical condition, while two men have also suffered severe injuries.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service flew the two women to Darwin hospital. Two men, aged 44 and 56 and with 10 to 20 per cent burns, were flown to Perth yesterday.

Competitor Oskar Booth, 24, said the runners became trapped in a narrow gorge.

“As we came out of checkpoint two, we came into a large amount of smoke but couldn’t see any flames,” Mr Booth said.

“The fire seemed to have accelerated and gone up to the gorge and trapped people. I could see thick plumes of smoke and it was getting hard to breathe – that’s when I realised it was serious.”

A Western Australia Police arson squad detective and Fire and Emergency Services Authority fire investigator travelled to the tragic scene, amid fears the fire may have been deliberately lit.

Royal Flying Doctor Service spokeswoman Joanne Hill said the four people were trapped in a gorge at El Questro Station.

“They were running through the gorge and a bushfire held them up and they had nowhere to go,” she said.

Australian fire update: 64 homes burned

Western Australia bushfire
Western Australia bushfire. Photo: Paul Pichugin

Most of the fires that have devastated parts of Western Australia are becoming controlled, but the number of homes that have burned has risen to 64, while 32 were damaged. On Monday some residents of the Kelmscott and Roleystone areas first heard the fates of their houses when a role call of addresses was rapidly read at a public meeting.

As firefighters began to control the fires, Premier Colin Barnett declared an area around the Perth foothills a disaster zone. He announced that the government was going to give $3,000 to those who had lost their homes, and $1,000 to those whose properties were damaged.

Since the Black Saturday fires, the government has been touting a new early warning system for bushfires, but some  families whose homes were destroyed said they either did not receive warnings from fire authorities or telephone and text alerts arrived hours after they had fled areas that burned. Fire and Emergency Services Authority officials said the fact that no one died in the fires is proof that the system worked well.

Roger Underwood, a former senior West Australian forester, has called for a public inquiry into the fuel management program, saying insufficient prescribed burning has led to a buildup of fuels. He blames the “greenie opposition to prescribed burning” and the “babes in the woods” who have moved from the city to the hills.

Fires in Western Australia destroy at least 35 homes

Western Australia fires
Photo: ABC News

Winds up to 43 mph are making it difficult for firefighters to control several wildfires in Western Australia. Here is an excerpt from ABC News in Australia:

Residents in several West Australian areas are facing a sleepless night as blazes continue to burn out of control.

Around 400 firefighters have been battling a number of blazes over the past 24 hours.

A blaze burning in the Roleystone and Kelmscott areas, south-east of Perth, has already destroyed 35 homes.

Authorities say that figure could reach 60, with winds of up to 70 kilometres an hour (43 mph) making it near impossible to bring the huge fire under control.

A firefighter was injured while battling the blaze and is now in a stable condition in hospital.

To the north-east of the city in Red Hill and Brigadoon, an emergency warning is in place for a blaze that has been burning since Saturday night.

Craig Hynes from the Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) says forecast winds will make it difficult to bring the fires under control.

“The wind is probably the worst enemy of firefighters,” he said.

“It will carry the fire, it will carry embers, they will spot ahead of the fire and it’s quite possible that it will cross roads and then start another fire in another area where firefighters need to get to quickly.”

Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) is urging its ground crews to keep people safe.

“Life is more important than homes,” said a radio message to fire crews. “If you can not save the homes, make sure there are no people involved.

“Please make sure if there are people within the fire area to evacuate them and not to worry about the houses at this time.”

The Fire and Emergency Services Authority web site has posted bushfire alerts for six different areas over the last two days. Occasionally the site is unavailable, perhaps due to hordes of residents visiting the site seeking information.

Two helicopters and two incident management teams are being sent from Victoria to help with the effort.