GFMC: Bush and Forest Fires in Australia

Bush and Forest Fires in Australia

3 January 2002

Current Situation: Inferno on the city’s doorstep 
(Source: The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2002)

Unprecedented hot and windy conditions, which have plunged Sydney into the driest spell in its recorded history, are posing new threats to the city as the Christmas bushfire disaster stretches into its tenth day.
By last night, with no relief in sight from the gusty north-westerly winds:

  • Humidity had fallen to 5 per cent.

  • Sixty-six fires were burning across 367,000 hectares.

  • The live fire front had more than doubled – from 630 kilometres to in excess of 1300 kilometres.

  • The total area burnt out grew yesterday from 367,000 to 500,000 hectares.

  • Remarkably, despite the scale of the fires, no property was lost.

As hundreds of firefighters from six states battled to protect homes and residents, arsonists brought the devastation to the city’s doorstep.
Police are trying to track mobile phone records to catch a man who reported, and probably lit, a fire at Pennant Hills about 2pm. The blaze raced toward houses at North Epping and then leapt the Lane Cove River to threaten homes at South Turramurra.
Last night several hundred residents were being evacuated from the townships of Kurrajong Heights and Kurrajong, in the lower Blue Mountains, in the face of a huge fire sweeping south-west into the Grose Valley.
The other area of concern was in the Shoalhaven area, where fires fanned by rising westerlies broke through firebreaks early yesterday, heading for Sussex Inlet. Evacuations were under way last night on Sussex Inlet Road and in the Wandandian area.
The NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Phil Koperberg, told the Herald last night he was on the verge of calling for more interstate reinforcements to join the crews already brought from Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. Ten firefighting managers are expected to arrive from New Zealand today.
Mr Koperberg was also seeking aircraft support to help the water bombardment that proved one of the most successful weapons in combating the fires yesterday.
“In terms of a weather pattern that sustains fire of this magnitude, I have never seen anything like it in my 32 years of service,” Mr Koperberg said.
“The Bureau of Meteorology has told us, with some confidence, that tomorrow will be worse than today; and today was only the second time in 50 years there had been humidity levels of 5 per cent, which is a critical factor.
“Most of the fires have broken their containment lines. Only Sutherland, the Blue Mountains and parts of Cessnock have held. The fires at Nattai, Avon Dam, Shoalhaven, Hawkesbury and Spencer have all broken. And there is a horrendous fire in Pennant Hills Park which is threatening homes.”
Asked if five new fires that began yesterday were deliberately lit, Mr Koperberg replied: “I cannot see any other explanation.”
He described the situation in the Blue Mountains – one of the three fires which yesterday remained under control – as “knife-edge stuff”. “Who would have thought things could deteriorate to such an extent?”
The Minister for Emergency Services, Bob Debus, echoed the concern, saying: “The sheer number of fires, their size, winds this strong and air as dry – this is a situation which must be very nearly unique.”
Searing winds turned late-afternoon firefighting into a marathon yesterday and conditions are forecast to worsen today. Winds of between 40 and 60 kmh are expected to combined with humidity of lower than 10 per cent and temperatures again into the mid-30s.
Underlining authorities’ dire predictions is the vast amount of firefighting equipment committed. A spokesman for the Rural Fire Service, John Winter, said already there were more firefighters, more appliances and more aircraft in use than during the disastrous bushfires of 1994.
In Pennant Hills, 250 firefighters were trying to save homes, assisted by three aircraft, including the Erickson 30 helicopter on contract to the Victorian Government. The helicopter can dump up to 9000 litres of water in a single flight.
With the M2 freeway closed from the tollgates to Epping Road, firefighters were battling to save homes.
“There may be urgent evacuations in the North Epping and South Turramurra area tonight,” Mr Winter said.

Wednesday, 2 January 2002 – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service has declared a Total Fire Ban in the following Weather Forecast Districts:  STATEWIDE

The weather forecast for this area is very high temperature, low humidity and moderate to strong winds. These conditions are conducive to fire activity and the community is urged to take particular care. Fire danger in this area will be extreme or approaching extreme.
The Total Fire Ban will become effective for the 24 hours from MIDNIGHT TONIGHT, Tuesday, January 01, 2002 for 24 hours until MIDNIGHT Wednesday, 2 January 2002.
During a Total Fire Ban no fire of any kind may be lit in the open. This includes incinerators and barbecues which burn solid fuel, e.g. wood or charcoal. You may use a gas or electric barbecue, but only if:

  • It is on residential property within 20m of the house or dwelling;

  • It is under the direct control of a responsible adult;

  • The ground around the barbecue is cleared for 3m of all material which could burn;

  • You have a continuous supply of running water.

     For more information: DUTY MEDIA OFFICER: 02 9898 1855

Fire Locations 

Fire Locations in the Sydney
Region, 1 January 2002

Fire Locations in NSW,
31 December2001

Fig.1. & Fig.2.
Source: New South Wales Rural Fire Service

The Satellite Remote Sensing Services Department of Land Administration (DOLA) routinely evaluates the NOAA AVHRR satellite sensor to detect and locate vegetation fires and high-temperature events. In Australia hot events depicted by the satellite can represent wildfires or prescribed fires as well as industrial activities (e.g., gas flares, smelters) and hot surfaces (e.g., rocks heated by solar radiation during the daytime overpasses of the satellite). Thus, DOLA displays two products of hot spot maps: the automatically generated high-temperature event maps (which include false alarms) and the manually generated fire maps. All hotspot locations are geo-referenced and where required as Australian Map Grid. On some days up to four NOAA-AVHRR passes are used to identify hot events.

The manual method (human operator) provides greater accuracy however it takes longer. Thus, the issue of the manually generated fire maps is delayed (not real-time). Hot spots are located using NOAA-AVHRR channel 3 on early morning (0050-0340hrs) and mid morning (0450-0630hrs) images.

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Fig.3. Fire Detection Map for Australia for 3 January 2002 overlaid on a pan-Australian
vegetation cover map. Source fire coordinates (manual):
Satellite Remote Sensing Services Department of Land Administration (DOLA)
Source of vegetation and fuel type map: Luke and McArthur (1977)
(Please take into account, that this presentation mainly represents fire events
from Western Australia and Northern Territories )

The Department of Natural Resources and Environment is responsible for the management of fire prevention and suppression on public lands in Victoria. The last updated bushfire statistic of 2 January 2002 shows 15 controlled fires. The locations of these fires are displayed in the statewide fire situation map below.

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Fig.4. Statewide Fire Situation Map of Victoria, 3 January 2002
(for legend of symbols see: National Resources and Environment)

Nasa´s Earthobservatory

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View on Australia’s fires on 2 January 2002

Fig.5. These images were acquired by
Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on 2January 2002.
For details see:
(For earlier satellite images: see Australia fire updates of 30 December 2001)

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Fig.6. These images of  “Smoke Blankets New South Wales, Australia ”  were acquired
by on the morning of  30 December 2002 by the Multi-angle Imaging
SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument aboard NASA’s Terra spacecraft.
For details see:
Source: Nasa´s Earthobservatory
(Image courtesy NASA/GSFC/LaRC/JPL, MISR Team )

Operational Significant Event Imagery (OSEI)
The following significant events were identified by Satellite Analysis Branch meteorologists and reviewed by the OSEI support team of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

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Fig. 7. NESDIS/OSEI NOAA-12 POES AVHRR LAC satellite image, 2 January 2002.
This GMS image using Channel 1 shows smoke plumes (indicated by the yellow arrows) over the Tasman Sea from fires burning around Sydney, Australia. According to
CNN, the blazes that have burned more than 1.24 million acres are the most prolonged and destructive in Australia since the Ash Wednesday conflagration of 1983 that
claimed 72 lives.
(Source: OSEI/NOAA)

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology is the National Meteorological Service for Australia and provides essential meteorological services to all sectors of the Australian community.

Fire danger:

Latest News on Forest Fires in Australia: see: Recent Media Highlights on Fire, Policies, and Politics:
Bushfire set to worsen according to weekand weather predictions (published by ABC News Online)
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service is urging people living under threat of bushfires to remain vigilant despite today´s respite in conditions.

Australia livestock, crops escape worst of fires (published by PlanetArk)
Fires killed about 5,000 sheep and about 100 cattle in the past two days, but crops, mainly wheat, had beeen harvested before the fires hit, the New South Wales Farmers Association told yesterday.

Australian officials fear fires will flare again (published by PlanetArk)
The blazes could flare again with a return of high temperatures and strong winds over the weekend.

NSW Ablaze – several articles (published by The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald)

Burning questions after week aflame (published by The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald)

Canadian Erickson Air-Crane Helitanker from Victoria to attack N.S.W. fires (published by The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald)

For regular fire update information: See Website of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service:

The Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC) has offered assistance to liaise Australian fire authorities with Global Emergency Response and the Russian Ministry for Emergency Situations (EMERCOM). Russia offers the services of the Ilyushin 76, the largest water bomber currently available (42,000 litre tank), for international use. The NSW fire authorities have been notified by the offer.
For more information on Global Emergency Response see
and click on Global Emergency Response.

For more information on Australia see the IFFN country notes and have a look at the Australian and New Zealand links.
For background Information see also: Recent Media Highlights on Fire, Policies, and Politics

Photo Gallery

Air saviour … A helicopter drops water on a new fire in Blaxland in the Blue Mountains. High winds and hot temperatures saw fires in NSW develop rapidly yesterday. Photo: Sean Davey.
Source: The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2002.

Firefighters Lindsay William and Shane Slack control a backburn at Russell Avenue, Valley Heights. Photo: Sean Davey.
Source: The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2002.

Long way to help … NSW Rural firefighter Bob Berg from Temora, Western NSW, controls a backburn operation in Angophora street, Valley Heights.
Photo: Sean Davey.
Source: The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2002.

Hazard reduction in a hotspot between Picton and Buxton, south-west of
Sydney. Photo: Jacky Ghossein.
Source: The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2002.

New South Wales and Victorian Rural Fire Service crews watch and plot the
path of the bushfires burning west of Hill Top. Photo: Nick Moir.
Source: The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2002.

Rural firefighter Ron Hale keeps an eye on backburning near Oystershell
Road, Mangrove Creek, near Spencer. Photo: Rick Stevens.
Source: The  Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2002.

The front … A large fire burns through the Nattai National Park near Mittagong in the Southern Highlands. More than 15,000 firefighters, from NSW and interstate, supported by 800 trucks and 55 aircrafts are battling the fires which surround Sydney. Photo: AFPTom.
Source: The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2002.

Bushfires burn extremely close to homes in Pennant Hills.
Photo: Penny Bradfield.
Source: The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2002.

The danger is evident from this aerial shot. Photo: Penny Bradfield.
Source: The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2002.

Elvis the helicopter working against a blood red sky in Maquarie Park.
Photo: Nick Moir.
Source: The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2002.

The fire in Pennant Hills being doused by the Erikson skycrane.
Photo: Penny Bradfield.
Source: The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 2002.

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