GFMC: Bush and Forest Fires in Australia

Bush and Forest Fires in Australia

7 January 2002

Giant water bombers ready to hit front line
(Source& Copyright: The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 January 2002)
Two water-bombing helicopters – Georgia Peach and The Incredible Hulk – will each add their 22-tonne weight to the firefighting effort this morning. They will take over from Elvis, the Erickson Air-Crane helitanker that helpedsave hundreds of homes over the past fortnight and which is due to return to Victoria. They will also relieve the efforts of about 70 aircraft in the firefighting fleet,many of which require maintenance after 13 days’ action. The two helitankers arrived from Oregon at Sydney Airport at 9.30am yesterday aboard a Russian Antonov cargocarrier. Like Elvis, Georgia Peach and The Incredible Hulk have a capacity of 9000 litres of water. They weigh 10 tonnes andcan carry a further 12 tonnes. The State Government is leasing the aircraft from the US Erickson company for more than $20,000 each a day.The Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Phil Koperberg, said the fire season was far from over and the aircraft wereneeded.
“There are two things that are bound to make it rain,” he quipped. “One is if I decide to go for a ride on my motorbike- that rarely fails. The other is the arrival of two very expensive Air-Cranes.”Two pilots with 10 years’ helitanker experience, Don McLeod and Dennis Corrin, from Nelson, New Zealand, arrived inSydney on Sunday night. Mr Corrin said the helicopters were “awesome” with lots of power. NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Cameron Wade said the tankers were just one part of the firefighting strategyand stressed they could not do the work by themselves. “Aircraft do not put out fires. Water-bombing aircraft simply calm the fire down so the ground troops can actually putthe fire out. Even Elvis, with 9000 litres of water, does not necessarily put the fire out.”

Right back to square one
(Source& Copyright: The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 January 2002)
The NSW Rural Fire Service chief, Phil Koperberg, fears a heatwave and strong winds today will return firefighters to “square one” in the battle against the costliest bushfires in the state’s history. He said that if the wind changed as feared today, firefighters would endure conditions as bad as those that tested them on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. The State Government yesterday estimated the cost of fighting the bushfires at $70 million. This is on top of $70 million in insurance claims for the 100 or so properties lost. The Minister for Emergency Services, Bob Debus, said the fires were the “most widespread” blazes in NSW’s – and possibly Australia’s – history. Mr Koperberg, the Rural Fire Service Commissioner, said tired firefighters faced a combination of no rain, west-north-westerly winds up to 65 kmh, low humidity and temperatures hitting 40C. “It’s about as bad as it gets,” he said. “These are atrocious conditions. It could put us back to squareone.” As the fire crisis enters its third week, up to 7000 firefighters at a time are working 12-hour shifts. The Rural Fire Service said it had troops in reserve but Mr Koperberg expressed concern over fatigue. “The longer this lasts the more exponential the effect of the fatigue becomes,” he said. The Bureau of Meteorology’s weather services manager, Andrew Treloar, said yesterday the fire outlook was extreme due to the “tricky weather conditions”. Around Sydney, possible thunderstorms overnight and this morning could bring rain but it would not necessarily fall on the fires. Temperatures today are expected to reach up to 40C in Richmond.
Two Erikson air-cranes, dubbed “The Incredible Hulk” and “Georgia Peach”, arrive in Sydney this morning after a journey costing $800,000, allowing “Elvis” to return to Victoria, which is facing its own fire threat.
A spokeswoman for Mr Debus said the helitankers each cost $24,000 a day to lease and $12,000 an hour in crew, fuel and maintenance costs. The cost of the bushfires – $140 million in government outlays and insurance claims – has swamped the 1994 fires, which cost the government $10 million and the insurance industry $56 million for payouts on 200 properties. The current bushfire campaign has also lasted longer than the 1994 crisis, in which emergency services were on full-scale alert for 10 days. NSW today enters its 15th day on an emergency footing. A huge backburn in the Blue Mountains between Glenbrook and Wentworth Falls closed the Great Western Highway until early evening yesterday. Mr Koperberg said the work had been “very labour-intensive” but would pay dividends – unless strong south-south-westerly winds blew up. If this happens, the Blue Mountains fire could again burst out ofcontrol, he said.
In the Shoalhaven, predicted strong north-easterly winds would drive the firefront further to the south-west, with westerlies expected later today that would potentially threaten Ulladulla.Tomorrow is likely to be very warm with gusty west-south-westerly winds and an expected top temperature of 34C in Sydney’s west. Homes remain in danger at Bowen Mountain in the Hawkesbury, west of Richmond, where a blaze that began a week ago is burning south and east towards the Baulkham Hills Shire. A large fire in the Bulga State Forest, west of Newcastle, would be deliberately merged overnight with another blaze in the Yengo National Park area, causing a fire covering 80,000 hectares. As ofyesterday, 567,000 hectares has been destroyed statewide by the fires. The National Parks and Wildlife Service director-general, Brian Gilligan, yesterday hit back at claims that not enough hazard reduction had been carried out ahead of summer. “Our current policy is the one universally endorsed by a bipartisan State Government committee after the inquiry into the 1994 fires,” he said. A 15-year-old boy was yesterday charged with arson after he was seen near a small grass fire at Prestons, in Sydney’s south-west. More than 20 people have been charged with arson since the fires started.

Water bombing plane crashes
(Source& Copyright: The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 January 2002)
A water bombing plane being used in the NSW bushfire crisis crashed on the south coast near Moruya, police said today. The pilot is believed to have escaped injury. Rural Fire Service spokesman John Winter said the plane crashed in winds of up to 74kph after filling up with fire retardant at Moruya airport. The strong winds have forced all water bombing to be suspended. “The pilot was taking off, he’s been affected by the winds by all accounts and that’s caused the plane to actually come into contact with one of the nearby sand dunes,” Mr Winter told Sky News. “The pilot … has walked away unscathed so that’s obviously the good news.”  The plane was a single seater, single-engined fixed wing aircraft regularly used for firefighting and agricultural purposes. “We believe it had just been refilling with fire retardant at Moruya airport,” Mr Winter said. “In the process of taking off fully laden, obviously with those difficult wind conditions, it’s been affected in that way.”

The SatelliteRemote Sensing Services Department of Land Administration (DOLA)routinely evaluates the NOAA AVHRR satellite sensor to detect and locatevegetation fires and high-temperature events. In Australia hot events depictedby the satellite can represent wildfires or prescribed fires as well asindustrial activities (e.g., gas flares, smelters) and hot surfaces (e.g., rocksheated by solar radiation during the daytime overpasses of the satellite). Thus,DOLA displays two products of hot spot maps: the automatically generatedhigh-temperature event maps (which include false alarms) and the manuallygenerated fire maps. All hotspot locations are geo-referenced and where requiredas Australian Map Grid. On some days up to four NOAA-AVHRR passes are used toidentify hot events.

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

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Fig.1. Fire Detection Map for Australia for 7 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 )

Fire Weather Forecast for the Pacific Region

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Fire Weather Index for the
Pacific Region for 8 January 2002.
(Source: ECPC Fire Weather Index Forecast)

Weather graph, Monday 7 January 2002.

Source: Bureau of Meteorology

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 5 January 2002 shows 12 controlled fires. The locations of these fires are displayed in the statewide fire situation map below.

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Fig.2. Statewide Fire Situation Map of Victoria, 7 January 2002
(for legend of symbols see: National Resources and Environment)

Nasa´s Earthobservatory

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Cloud Cover over Sydney and Tasmania on 7 January 2002

Cloud Cover south of Brisbane on 7 January 2002

Fig.3. These images were acquired by
Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor on 7 January 2002.
For details see:
(For earlier satellite images: see Australia fire update of 30 December 2001)

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. 5.GOES 8 satellite image, 4 January 2002.
This GMS Channel 1 image shows smoke plumes (indicated by the yellow arrows) over the
Tasman Sea from fires burning around Sydney, Australia. No lives have been
lost, but more than 160 houses have been destroyed north, west, and south of Sydney
according to USA Today. As of Thursday, about 20,000 firefighters were battling
(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:
Northern Territory High in the Alice Springs

Latest News on Forest Fires in Australia: see: Recent Media Highlights on Fire, Policies, and Politics:

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
Source: The Sun-Herald/The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 January 2002.

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It only takes a spark … A firefighter lights a backburn near the small town of Bilpin as cooler than predicted weather conditions enabled fire crews to put in containment lines around some of the 80 fires burning. Photo: William West/AFP.

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Nothing left … Dai Rimmer surveys the ruins of her home in Paterson Rd, Springwood. Photo: Rick Stevens.
For a detailed story (“Dear arsonist, wish you were here to see my pain” – by Dai Rimmer) see:

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Scramble … A fireman escapes a backburn fire along the Great Western highway in Lawson which rapidly escalated. Photo: Sean Davey.

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Smoke on the water … John Patterson from Mollymook Surf Life Saving Club jumps from the boat followed by Bruce O’Sullivan to put out fires on the shores of Lake Berringer, south of Bendalong. Photo: Paul Harris.

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Battling on … Yellow Rock residents fight flames before the brigades can respond. Photo: Nick Moir.

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Hear our prayer … The Lawson Metro Brigade wait behind a sign made by residents. Photo: Sean Davey.

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Backburning … As backburning operations continue along the edge of the Great Western Highway between Lawson and Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains, Steven Barratt from Katoomba forces his way through thick smoke to contain a fire. Photo: Sean Davey.

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Containment … Firefighters back burn from the Great Western Highway near Lawson. Photo: Rick Stevens.

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