GFMC: Bush and Forest Fires in Australia

Bush and Forest Fires in Australia

18 January 2003

BushfiresRaging in Southeast Australia

According to news reports, the fire situation in New South Wales and Victoria, Australia, is grave. Hot temperatures and winds gusting up to 70 kilometers (43 miles) per hour have kept bushfires burning out of control in southeastern New South Wales and northeastern Victoria. The fire situation may be the worst the area has experienced in more than 50 years, and in Victoria, government officials are making plans to call up the army for firefighting assistance. Smoke continues to pour from the blazes and to create a health hazard.

This true-color Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) image from January 17, 2003, shows the fires in southeastern Australia marked with red dots. Smoke is drifting south east. On the western side of the fires, what look like long straight lines of smoke (see high-resolution image) may be contrails from reconnaissance aircraft or water tankers.

Large fires burning out of control in the Great Dividing Range Mountains in southeast Australia are producing a thick cloud of aerosols over the area. This false-color map of Australia shows an aerosol index produced from data collected by the Total ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) on January 12, 2003. The index shows how much light was absorbed by aerosols in a column of air between the instrument and the ground. A value of 1 indicates aerosols were reducing the light reaching the ground by about one-thrid, while a value of 3 indicates aerosol so dense that the light was reduced by about 95 percent.

The large cluster of fires in southern New South Wales is easily identified by the large area of red. The aerosol plume clearly affects a larger area than it seems to in true-color imagery. This is because the TOMS aerosol index uses observations collected in the ultraviolet (UV) part of the spectrum. Aerosols that appear transparent in true-color imagery can be revealed by UV analysis. The principle is similar to certain “invisible” magic markers that produce writing that can only be seen under special UV (“black”) lights.

Source: NASAEarthObservatory

Fire Weather Forecast for the Pacific Region

click here to enlarge (21 KB)

Fire Weather Index for the
Pacific Region for tomorrow.
(Source: ECPCFire Weather Index Forecast)

Fire Situation in NSW and inCanberra

Two dead, at least 100 homes lost as firestorm ravagesA.C.T.

Canberra’s fire emergency has claimed two lives and up to 100 homes, with two dozen suburbs still considered in danger.More than 2,000 people have fled their homes amid a fire emergency in and around Canberra.It has been confirmed a second person has died in the fires. A woman died in the Mount Stromlo forestry settlement, south-west of the city.Police are investigating the matter. There are now also reports of homes being loooted.

ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has declared a state of emergency handing control of all firefighting efforts to the chief police officer, John Murray.Prime Minister John Howard will break his holiday today and visit parts of fire ravaged Canberra.A spokesman for the Prime Minister says his itinerary for the day has not yet been planned and will depend upon how the fire situation unravels overnightStrong winds fuelled three major fire fronts and numerous spot fires around Canberra.

At least 100 homes have been destroyed, along with a school, a medical centre and even a suburban fire station.One man died of smoke inhalation, while trying to defend his home in the western suburb of Duffy.

Mike Castle from Emergency Services says the fire fighting effort will continue overnight with two dozen suburbs still listed as in danger.

“We still have some very bad fire weather ahead of us,” Mr Castle said.
“We may get some respite, it depends what the weather changes and does tomorrow.
“But as I understand they were talking about a weak change on Sunday.”
That suburb has been evacuated as has Holt, also on Canberra’s westside.

Four evacuation centres have been set up with one now full and another has itself been evacuated to a safer area.

Medical services have also been stretched and some burns patients may be evacuated to Sydney, with at least 30 people needing treatment for smoke inhalation or burns.Canberra Hospital chief executive Ted Rayment says extra beds have been set up and some patients may be transferred interstate.”We have had some offers from some medical doctors to provide some relief in our emergency department so that is good and we may send one or two burns patients to Sydney – we’re having a close look at that,” Mr Rayment said.


ACT Emergency Services spokesman Mike Castle says it has been an extraordinarily difficult day, made worse by some unfortunate behaviour.”Police also received two reports of persons looting homes on the southside of Canberra and that’s most unfortunate that people are taking that opportunity in adversity,” Mr Castle said.

More help needed

Mr Castle says the firefighters need more help.

“We have asked for army support both in graders and portable generators [and] we’ve also asked for support to establish base camps and support,” he said.
Rural Fire Service spokesman Cameron Wade says the situation is grave.

“What we’re seeing here is firestorm conditions and basically it’s a matter of trying to get the resources in to cope with the situation,” Mr Wade said.

New South Wales rural fire chief Phil Koperberg echoes that opinion.

“Clearly its a very serious situation there have been serious property losses already within Canberra… from the New South Wales perspective we’re trying to get as much resource into the area as possible,” he said.

“The fire has now crossed in NSW in Yarralumla shire… east of the Monaro Highway but there is lots of threats.

“Canberra we’ve got a number of taskforces coming out of Wagga and Sydney all of which should arrive in the next couple of hours.”

Resident Jason Walker says some of his neighbours have lost everything.

“There’s nothing else they can do, they’ve tried what they can with the hoses they’ve got – there’s no firefighters, there’s no help other than the local hands on deck and I can tell you now this is an ugly day,” Mr Walker said.

Authorities are struggling with the fire emergency in and around Canberra and are running out of resources to battle the flames.

A firefighter has reported his own fire station was burning.

“We managed to get 41 out of Kambah, parts of the station are still [burning] – what do you want me to do?” the firefighter said.

But authorities appear to be running short of resources to battle the flames as another firefighter was advised when he called for help.

“It’s here at the moment, with hydrants fighting this fire, but we’re really struggling with it over [here] – yes, I’m sorry mate, that’s all we’ve got – we’ve got no available units at this stage,” he said.

In Lyons on Canberra’s southside, four homes were alight before help arrived.

Resident Jason Walker describes the scene in his street where the houses on either side of his were destroyed.

“It’s still firing now, we’ve got gas mains shooting 30 feet flames – it’s unbelievable,” Mr Walker said.

He says there were no fire authorites there other than an aerial waterbombing.

“Look the first water bomber we just saw then and he’s only made a dent in one of the homes – he hasn’t even made an effort on it, it’s just out of control.”

North Sydney

A large bushfire burning in Sydney’s northern suburbs is expected to intensify and threaten hundreds of nearby homes.

Strong gusty winds are causing havoc for firefighters battling the Forestville blaze.

Southerly winds are expected to reach gusts of up to 50 kilometres an hour tonight which is likely to cause the fire to cross a creek in the Garigal National Park and burn towards the suburbs of Davidson and Belrose.

Andrew Shea from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service says fluctuating conditions are hampering efforts to contain the blaze to the southern fringes of the National Park.
“There is some concern tonight about gusting winds from the south which may cause the fire to spot to the northern side of Carol Creek,” Mr Shea said.
“If that happens fire fighters face a difficult task protecting hundreds of nearby homes.
“They are currently backburning in the area hoping it will stop the fire spreading.”


Thirteen firefighters from New Zealand will arrive in Melbourne today to help battle eight fires burning out of control in Victoria’s north-east.

There are already 2,000 firefighters working on the blazes and the army is also likely to join the effort in a logistical role from Tuesday.

The worst fires are burning in the Alpine Regions of Mt Buffalo, Mount Bogong and Mount Feathertop.

The Pinnabar fire, south of Corryong, is also causing concern.

Victorian Department of Environment spokesman Mike Leonard says home owners in that area are on high alert.

“Those residents we’ve been working with over the last week or two, and their houses and the like are hopefully well prepared for this eventuality and the residents have hopefully made decisions about whether they should stay and defend their property, should that be necessary,” Mr Leonard said.

Mr Leonard says the fire at Mt Buffalo is causing the most concern.

“It sits above two valleys which have significant farmland and tourist assets and the like, but several of the other fires also potentially threaten Alpine Villages and the like and the ones particularly around Mt Feathertop and Mt Bogong are likely to become quite big fires in the next day or two, given the predicted weather,” Mr Leonard said.

Snowy Mtn communities

John Winter from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service says there are close to 1,400 firefighters the battling blazes in the Snowy Mountains.

He says more resources will be called in if needed, but does not believe interstate help is warranted at this stage.

“There’s no real potential to bring fire crews from interstate, obviously we are actually providing some interstate assistance to our collegues in the ACT and indeed working very closely with the Victorians because of course, they have a very similar sort of fire threat in there end of the Snowy Mountains,” Mr Winter said.

There have been no property losses in the New South Wales Snowy Mountains, despite huge blazes burning across the Koscouszko National Park.

A southerly change late yesterday afternoon has cooled the fire threat.

But authorities say a serious situation still exists in the ski resorts inside the park and around the Adaminaby and Eucumbene Lake districts outside the park’s easter border.

The weather is expected to be less dangerous today, but a return to hot and windy conditions across the Snowy Mountains is forcast for early next week.

Fire crews are protecting the village of Thredbo, which was evacuated last night.

Cameron Wade from the Rural Fire Service says police and state emergency personnel are advising local residents in Adaminaby that the town will come under ember attack later today.

“At this stage fire crews are positioned around the township, and also the numerous assets around the mountains.

“We’re talking about power lines, ski lodges, huts, all the various scattered assets all over the mountain ranges… currently fire crews are in position around those.

Source: ABCNews

Sunday, 19 January 2003 – STATEWIDE TOTAL FIRE BAN

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

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, Saturday, January 18, 2003 until MIDNIGHT Sunday, 19 January 2003.
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.

A map identifying the boundaries of weather districts can be found on the Bureau of Meteorology web site at

Members of the public can phone 1 800 654 443 or their local NSW Rural Fire Service Fire Control Centre for more information.

Wind shifts pressure containment lines on ACT/NSW border fires
Friday, 17 January 2003 – Friday , 17 January 2003 1200

NSW firefighters from the Rural Fire Service (RFS) and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) are working on control lines for three fires on the western ACT / NSW border, specifically in the Brindabella and Namadji National Parks and Bimberi Nature Reserve.

Containment strategies are progressing according to plans on the fires, which were caused by lightning strikes on Wednesday 8 January 2003.These control lines will be tested today with the weather forecast showing strong north westerly winds, 37 degree temperatures and very low humidity.

The wind shift will place considerable pressure on the eastern and southern containment lines and could potentially turn fires back towards the east, however the potential threat to properties in the Brindabella Valley has eased a little for the moment.

Eleven aircraft are working across the Yarrowlumla Rural Fire District on these fires. This includes four medium and seven light helicopters, one firespotter and one Air Crane.

Containment lines on McIntyres Hut fire will be tested – Brindabella National ParkContainment lines are complete on this fire, however, they will be tested today.There is currently no immediate threat to any property. Firefighters are concerned that strong wind gusts could cause spot overs which could impact major pine plantations in the ACT.

The fire has burned over 7000ha and is being fought by about 120 NSW firefighters from Yarrowlumla, Queanbeyan and Yass Rural Fire Districts, crews from the greater Sydney area and NPWS firefighters.

Containment lines will continue to be patrolled. Ground and air patrols will continue to be conducted as active fire remains along the Goodrabigbee River.Aerial incendiary drops are being considered today depending on weather conditions.NSW RFS assisting ACT crews at Stockyard Fire in the Namadji National Park

Two hundred RFS firefighters with 20 fire trucks are assisting local ACT crews with major backburning operations on this fire which has burned over 4000ha.Close communication between ACT and NSW fire authorities is occurring through liaison officers and daily joint planning meetings.

Firefighters were relocated this morning as weather conditions are expected to deteriorate earlier than predicted.Strong winds will pressure containment lines and crews have been moved back to secondary containment lines in consideration of safety.

The south eastern corner of this fire is the main concern. Although the fire is remote it is impacting on the water catchment area. No properties are immediately threatened at this time.Threat from the Stockyard and Bendora fires to the Brindabella Valley will ease slightly due to the wind shift to the northwest, however, the southern and eastern containment lines will be tested today.

Kosciuszko National Park Fire Update – 1230 hours – Containment Lines Breached in Bad Fire Conditions
Saturday, 18 January 2003

Due to strong westerly winds the fire situation has seriously worsened as the fire has breached most containment lines around the Park and a number of spot overs have occurred. Fire authorities are focussed on protecting life and property.

The weather conditions are expected to deteriorate further today. Strong northwesterly winds are expected and these will test containment.

Warning for Residents
All residents living on properties adjacent to the Park and further a field must prepare themselves for the threat of attack by fire. They are advised to take commonsense precautions around their houses, such as clearing flammable material from their grounds and roofs, blocking drainpipes and filling gutters with water and ensuring hoses or other water sources are ready for use. Police and fi4e services are patrolling the areas of highest risk.

In particular residents in the Goobagandra, Talbingo, Brindabella, Adaminaby and Wollondibby Valleys should be on the highest level of alert and prepared for imminent fire threat.

Those residents who wish to stay and defend their properties against the fire may do so if they feel they are capable, can cope with the stress and have carried out the appropriate preparation. The young, elderly and infirm should consider leaving well before a fire approaches.

Health Warning From Smoke Haze
NSW Health have issued advice for those who have concerns about the smoke haze currently affecting towns surrounding the park.

Elderly people or those suffering from heart or lung disease should avoid exertion, use their medication and remain indoors where possible. Anyone suffering adverse effects should consult their doctor.

Weather a Continuing Concern
Today’s weather conditions continue to be difficult for the fire fighting operation.

Sunday should see some respite later in the day with a slight cooling of temperatures, but the day is likely to start with dry SW winds, light at first, increasingly quickly to 20/30km/h during the morning. A late SE/NE (15-25km/h) change is expected to extend from the east.

Monday is likely to see a return to high temperatures again. The westerly winds don’t look likely to increase significantly again until overnight Monday or Tuesday with the passage of a cold front. Average speeds may reach 20/25 km/h about the peaks by day and will increase overnight. There is a chance of afternoon/evening showers/thunderstorms.

Fire Details
Flying embers caused by spot fires yesterday outside the containment lines of the Yarrangobilly, Tabletop and Broken Cart fires. This resulted in new fire fronts in these areas.

Spot fires burnt yesterday afternoon in Cabramurra, Australia’s highest town, as a result of embers blowing from the Yarrangobilly fire. Cabramurra has now been protected from fire, with no known property damage.

Fire defences at Mt Selwyn ski resort appear to be holding.

Tooma complex – some spot fires have occurred in the Bogong Swamp area.

Tollbar – containment lines established from the northern section of Happy Jacks Road, western side of Tolbar Road and tying into a larger containment line that runs down the Snowy Plain Road and Kalkite Gap to Jindabyne Dam. Asset protection work is currently underway in the Eucumbene Cove area.

Spot fires have also occurred in the Main Range and Perisher Valley areas extending from Lake Cootapatamba, near Mt Kosciuszko, to Dainers Gap on the Kosciuszko Road.

Windy Creek – spot over fires have occurred across the containment line

Hannels Spur and Scammels Spur – fire authorities have 14 confirmed spot fires as at 10am between Lake Cootapatamba and Dainers Gap Area (near Sponars Inn). Two of the spotovers are now out. Dozer work is now occurring around Sponars to protect property.

Youngal – a spot fire has crossed the Murray River

Pinnabar Complex – fires have spotted across containment lines on Friday afternoon and have burnt 12kms between Murray Valley/Tom Groggin and Dead Horse Gap in four hours. There has been unconfirmed reports of fire on the southern side of the Alpine Way in the Pilot Area, below Dead Horse Gap.

Source: NSW Rural FireService

Actual Fire Situation Maps,Victoria
An actual fire situation map can be found directly at:

Fire Situation in Tasmania


Patrolling will continue and unburnt patches inside the fire edge may be backburned today if the weather permits. Mopping up on the eastern boundary is now well advanced.

Today’s operational efforts will be concentrated on the section of fire in the Pickford Hill and Haulands area, where heavy machinery will be used to remove vegetation along approximately 12km of the fire edge.


While the fire still remains contained at this stage, numerous flare-ups have occurred within the containment lines in unburnt vegetation and are being dealt with in order to prevent any further outbreaks.

Palana Road has been temporarily closed as thick smoke is making conditions dangerous for vehicle traffic.

A new incident control team has arrived this afternoon to relieve the current team who have been on duty for the past 5 days.


The fire which started 8 days ago in the Mt Levonthorpe area of the Darling Ranges has now burnt out an area of 17,040 hectares with a fire edge of 107kms.

Yesterday’s construction of mineral earth breaks and backburning operations combined with mop up and patrolling carried out overnight has contained the fire.

Cloudy cool conditions and the possibility of drizzle this afternoon will assist fire crews in extinguishing hot spots and identifying any unburnt patches within the containment lines which could potentially lead to escapes if the wind and temperature were to increase.

Source: Tasmania Fire Service (TFS)

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

Australia´s fire seasons

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