GFMC: Bush and Forest Fires in Australia

Bush and Forest Fires in Australia

19 January 2003

BushfiresRaging in Southeast Australia

Pixel Size 1 km Pixel Size 250m

This true-color ModerateResolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) image from the Aqua satellite./January19, 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.

This false-color map of theworld  shows an aerosol index produced from data collected by the Total ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) on January18, 2003.
The large cluster of fires in Australia 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: Total ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS),

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

Four killed in ACT fires, more than 360 homes destroyed

Police have confirmed a 73-year-old man is the latest victim of the Canberra fires in the ACT, and have also revised the number of homes destroyed to 368.

ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope says the number of homes lost is likely to rise to at least 400, while the death toll from the fires now stands at four.

The body of an elderly man was discovered late yesterday, found in a house in the worst-affected suburb of Duffy.It is believed he was trying to stop the flames destroying his home. Police spokeswoman Toni Purnell says authorities are still working to establish the victim’s identity.

“Police would want to hear from any family members who might be missing a loved one,” Ms Purnell said.

Two women aged 37 and 83 and a 61-year-old man have also been killed.Acting chief health officer Dr Charles Guest says Canberra’s hospitals have been inundated with more than 600 people seeking treatment in last 48 hours.

“A lot of the people presenting have minor emergency problems and then there have been the major issues the burns that have gone Sydney,” Dr Guest said.”We’re seeing people with smoke inhalation, there’s been lots of minor burns, fractures,” Dr Guest said.Welcome break

Some Canberra firefighters are taking a welcome break after bringing most of the city’s blazes under control.But work is continuing overnight to overcome the extensive fire damage done to essential services, including power supplies and sewerage treatment.Milder and cooler conditions allowed firefighters yesterday to concentrate on building more firebreaks and back burning to help protect at-risk areas.Some firefighters are now having a break but others are working overnight to assess the damage from Saturday’s devastating blazes.

Residents return

Residents of one of the suburbs worst affected by the Canberra firestorm were allowed to return yesterday.Residents of one of the first suburbs to feel the affect of the fires, Duffy in the city’s south-west, went back yesterday.However, other affected suburbs remain closed, as do many roads around Canberra.Calmer conditions have allowed authorities to backburn, and fire services are aiming to surround the ACT with bulldozer and grader protection.But there are warnings of extreme fire danger over the next two days and authorities remain on high alert.

With some criticism the fire services did not make it to some areas on Sunday, ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope has strongly defended them, saying they were simply overwhelmed by a once-in-a-century event.

“It was a holocaust of an extent that we simply did not and could not possibly have had the capacity to foresee or deal with,” Mr Stanhope said.

Landmarks lost

The list of Canberra landmarks lost in the fires includes almost the entire ACT softwood plantations, the Uriara and Mount Stromlo forestry settlements, and all Canberra’s public health laboratories.Australia’s oldest active observatory Mt Stomlo, has been extensively damaged in the fires.Helicopter observations have revealed its handful of giant domes are either burnt to the framework or molten masses of metal.
Its offices and research facilities are also severely burnt. Mr Jon Stanhope says the damage bill is expected to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.He says families who have lost their homes will receive $10,000 in immediate assistance.

Suspected looter charged

ACT chief police officer John Murray has confirmed one person has been charged with burglary.

“We have arrested a young man for what can be described as looting… the offence he is about to be charged with is burglary,” he said.

“He has taken advantage of a situation it seems where someone’s house has been vulnerable.

“There has been one other report. We are adopting a patrolling system within the city, using our own police, Federal police and some NSW police to prevent this from happening again.”

Response times

Prime Minister John Howard has joined ACT Chief Minister Jon Stanhope in defending the fire services against criticism they could have been better prepared.

Mr Stanhope says Sunday’s firestorm had such devastating power fire authorities which normally can fight six house fires at once were overwhelmed.”We would have needed up to 800 fully staffed pumping machines to fight that fire,” he said.”It was simply beyond us.”

Neither he nor the Prime Minister would accept any criticism of the emergency service personnel.Governor-General Peter Hollingworth has issued a plea for people not to lay blame for the devastation.

“We must not go on with recrimination,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is Australia is a high incendiary place.”

WA offer

Meanwhile, Western Australia’s acting Health Minister Sheila McHale has offered Canberra the services of medical staff from Royal Perth Hospital, who treated victims of the Bali tragedy.”We’re looking at a number of options, either a couple of nurses and perhaps one or two doctors,” she said.”Alternatively we could culture skin for the skin grafts so it may not be necessarily sending personnel but we want to ensure that our competence here can be used if needed by Canberra.”Fire claims a petrol station in the Canberra suburb of Duffy [Reuters]Evacuation

Free domestic flights

Qantas is offering free domestic flights to Canberra residents who have lost their homes in the fires.The airline will also offer discounted tickets to people who wish to visit family members in the ACT from other states.Qantas will also fly 60 volunteer fire fighters from Brisbane to Canberra on Monday and has offered to provide thousands of meals.Qantas spokesman Alan Williams says airline staff have also lost their homes in the fires.”Unfortunately four of our local Qantas staff have lost their homes that we’re aware of at this stage, so we’re very close to and deeply affected.”

Power cuts

About 15,000 Canberra residents remain without power after Saturday’s devastating fires in the ACT, where blackouts continue to affect more than 30 suburbs.As the fires raged on Saturday there were reports of power poles exploding.

The ACT power authority, ACTEW-AGL, is still working to fix damaged electricity lines and poles.Spokesman Noel Whitehall says some progress has been made. “We started off this morning with 25 per cent of our customer numbers off supply – we got that down to 15 per cent late this afternoon and we’re aiming to get to 5 or 6 per cent by midnight [Sunday] tonight,” Mr Whitehall said.Those areas still without power stretch across the city and include suburbs in Woden, Western Creek, Tuggeronong.Outlying areas affected include Tindbinbilla and Tharwa.

Water concerns

Work began begin at midnight on Sunday in a frantic bid to get Canberra’s fire damaged sewerage treatment plan operating again.The Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre was hit by three firefronts on Saturday.ACTEW chief executive Paul Perkins says unless it can be brought back on line by tomorrow night, untreated waste may overflow into the Molonglo river.Canberra residents are being asked to cut the water flowing into the sewerage system.The ACTEW has asked people take only short showers, or baths, without letting the water out, to wash up in a bucket and to avoid using washing machines.There are also concerns about water quality in several streets below the Chapman reservoir which has been damaged by fire.

New South Wales

Weather conditions are likely to worsen today in the Kosciusko National Park and 12 tankers are on standby to cater for the grim forecast.Firefighters were able to resume waterbombing on the large blaze dur to calmer weather conditions yesterday.Authorities say it is still too dangerous for holiday makers to return to the New South Wales ski resort of Thredbo despite the situation easing.New South Wales Fire Brigade Inspector Bryan Staples says 12 tankers are on placed on standby.”Anyone that doesn’t actually live in the village and is willing to assist the New South Wales fire brigades won’t be allowed back in at this time,” he said.”Again with the weather conditions prevailing and the predicted bad weather conditions for tomorrow, I can’t see them coming back in for some time.”

Meanwhile, firefighters are battling a large blaze just north of the ACT.

John Winter from the New South Wales Rural Fire Service says the fire in the Yass area, near Lake Burrinjuck, have already burnt out vast areas of grassland.”We now have reports that it’s up to some 15,000 hectares and that’s mainly farming country, open plain farming country which the fire has run extremely quickly across under the influence of those very strong westerlies yesterday,” he said.”We have some 50 fire tankers working on that fire and they’ll continue to work on that today to try and limit its potential to spread.”

A fire in the Garigal National Park at Forestville in northern Sydney is all but contained.The fire threatened hundreds of homes on Saturday and looked set to jump the Carroll Creek to the north of the park.Fire crews have worked on backburning operations overnight to protect homes in the suburb of Davidson.

In New South Wales firefighters in New South Wales have put in major backburns in front of a blaze which has been threatening the Adaminaby and Eucumbene districts.The forecast is for milder conditions across the Kosciuszko Park yesterday before a return to hot and windy weather today.Mr Winter says efforts to contain the large blaze have been very difficult in the last couple of days.”We really are still with our backs against the wall on that sort of fire,” he said.


The fires in north-east Victoria have escalated as strengthening winds push a large blaze towards the township of Mt Beauty.The blaze is still several kilometres from the township but the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and Country Fire Authority (CFA) firefighters are on highalert. DSE spokesman Mike Leonard says they are preparing for the worst. “Fire agencies are increasing deployment of crews into the towns to protect property,” Mr Leonard said.Residents have been told to activate fire plans and to leave now if they plan to do so.Jenny Arnette from Snowview Apartments at Mt Beauty is one of those who have decided to stay and protect their property and admits it is a big decision.”Oh huge, because we’re an accommodation complex and the last guest is just leaving now and heading back to Sydney,” Ms Arnette said.

Conditions are expected to worsen tomorrow with a total fire ban across the State.

Source: ABCNews

ABC News Online: ACT bushfire gallery

Update on Bushfires in the ACT – released at 8.45pm

Police and Emergency Services have located a fourth body in a home in Duffy. Police are currently investigating and further details will be available at a later time.

Police have confirmed a total of 368 homes have been destroyed in the ACT bushfires. The breakdown of homes destroyed is as follows:

Kambah – 39
Rivett – 6
Cotter area – 14
Chapman 75
Duffy – 185
Holder – 33
Lyons – 3
Curtin – 3
Weston – 10

There is still some restricted access to the Weston Creek area, especially the suburbs of Duffy, Rivett and Chapman. Police are only allowing bonafide residents to enter these areas and strongly discourage sightseers form visiting the area.

Approximately 60 people have been admitted to the Canberra Hospital and a further 300 people have presented at the hospital, predominantly for burns and smoke inhalation. Two people have been flown to Sydney’s Concord Hospital and one person to Royal North Shore Hospital for specialist burns treatment.

At this stage Emergency Services have all fires under control although there are some areas still smouldering. There are no immediate threats to property. There have been some unconfirmed reports of fires deliberately lit. Police are investigating these reports and urging members of the public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to 131444. Members of the public calling in to report fires are asked to be sure that they are reporting an actual fire rather than just smoke.

Members of the public will continue to see heavy smoke across some areas of Canberra for some time and they may also see fire crews conducting mopping-up operations in their suburbs.

People wishing to take their debris and rubbish to landfill are advised that the Long Gully Road to Mugga Lane landfill is now open and people wishing to drop off items can do so from tomorrow morning.

Source: CanberraConnect; ACT Bushfire Status

Update on Bushfires in the ACT – released at 6.30pm

Police have confirmed a total of 247 homes have been destroyed in the ACT bushfires however we expect this number to increase as the assessment process continues.

With the exception of Duffy, Rivett and Chapman, access is open to all suburbs in Canberra and residents may return. However due to current road closures residents may find it difficult to get to some areas.

Three people have been confirmed dead. Police are currently investigating the circumstances surrounding these deaths.

Approximately 60 people have been admitted to the Canberra Hospital and a further 300 people have presented at the hospital, predominantly for burns and smoke inhalation. Two people have been flown to Sydney’s Concord Hospital and one person to Royal North Shore Hospital for specialist burns treatment.

At this stage Emergency Services have all fires under control although there are some areas still smouldering, including west of Holt, Mt Rogers and from Banks to Tharwa. There are no immediate threats to property although there are still some spot fires in grassland areas. There have been some unconfirmed reports of fires deliberately lit. Police are investigating these reports and urging members of the public to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity to 131444.

Members of the public will continue to see heavy smoke across some areas of Canberra for some time and they may also see fire crews conducting mopping-up operations in their suburbs.

Source: CanberraConnect; ACT Bushfire Status

Monday, 20 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, Sunday, January 19, 2003 until MIDNIGHT Monday, 20 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

Canberra Fire Weather Warning: Hot and dry conditions together with westerly winds are expected to result inVERY HIGH to EXTREME fire danger in the ACT during Monday.

Statewide Update 19 January 2003

More than 450 NSW Rural Fire Service firefighters are working on fires affecting the ACT and surrounding areas today.

Two hundred firefighters are working on the Yarrowlumla Rural Fire District sections of the fires to the west and south of the ACT while another 250 are supporting ACT emergency services personnel with the Territory.About 500 personnel continue to work on containment of fires in the Kosciouszko National Park.

Milder weather conditions are giving firefighters some respite today, however, conditions are predicted to deteriorate across the firegrounds tomorrow.

Yarrowlumla/ACT fires

Severe weather conditions yesterday caused the McIntyres Hut, Bendora, Stockyard and Broken Cart fires to run and spot. These fires have affected about 80,000ha.

Conditions are milder today, assisting firefighters as they perform reconnaissance and containment work in preparation for predicted difficult weather tomorrow. Winds could gust this afternoon and cause the fires to run, however, wind conditions are mild at the moment.

Property losses and damage in and around the ACT continue to be investigated by the ACT authorities.

Two homes were lost in the southern end of the Brindabella Valley in NSW. The threat to properties in this area has eased today.

An RFS basecamp near Mt Stromlo on Cotter Rd, within the ACT, was destroyed by fire yesterday. Staff, crews and local residents were evacuated. RFS tents, ablutions blocks, kitchen facilities, equipment and the personal property of many firefighters were lost. Another basecamp further west on Cotter Rd was also affected by fire.

Fire is currently being held to the west of the Monaro Highway.

Backburning is being conducted in the Fairlight area, 25km northwest of Canberra.

Communities to the south of Canberra, from Williamsdale to Michelago, Colinton and Bredbo, are asked to be aware of fire in their general area and to undertake normal property preparations. Fire is not directly affecting property in these areas at the moment.

Police and SES volunteers are working with these communities to ensure they are prepared.

Sixteen aircraft are supporting ground crews today.

Kosciuszko National Park

The park is closed to visitors. Fire authorities focused on protecting life and property yesterday as fires breached containment lines.

Conditions today have enabled firefighters to continue containment work, particularly along the Snowy Mountains Highway.

All residents living on properties adjacent to the Park and further afield must prepare for the threat of fire attack and area advised to take commonsense precautions around their homes.

The Forestville fire is nearly contained and is not affecting properties. Backburning work along Carol Creek began this morning and firefighters are well prepared in the Davidson area if the fire does cause concern there, however, there should be no threat to property today.


A fire running through grazing country around Lake Burrinjuck has burned 15,000ha since it began yesterday.

More than 53 tankers with over 200 firefighters are working in the area. The fire is active in the Burrinjuck Mountains but is not affecting properties at the moment. Stock losses have been recorded.

Source: NSW Rural FireService

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

Fire Situation in Tasmania

TOTAL FIRE BAN FOR Monday 20th January 2003.

The Tasmania Fire Service has declared a day of Total Fire Ban tomorrow (Monday 20th January 2003) for the whole of the state commencing at midnight tonight.

The weather predicted is such that any fires occurring will be difficult if not impossible to control.

Mr Gledhill has appealed to the community to abide by the conditions of the Total Fire Ban as the state can ill afford to see fires of the magnitude that have recently occurred in New South Wales, Victoria and ACT.


Fire activity overnight was relatively calm and remains so this morning.

Continual patrolling of the containment lines remains ongoing. Multiple flare-ups inside the containment lines have typically been occurring during the afternoons.

This is expected to occur again today particularly on the northern boundary of the fire. A predicted late northerly change may put pressure on the southern boundary later this evening.

Remote area crews will be flown in today to extinguish fire in inaccessible ground over the Darling Mountain Range. Sixteen fresh fire-fighters will be landing on the island today.

Blacking out hot spots will continue (yesterday crews in the northern sector controlled and extinguished in excess of 100 spot fires) and large unburned sections will be back- burned ahead of predicted warmer weather on Monday.Bulldozers are being used in areas where peat fires have become difficult to extinguish.

Actual Fire Situation Maps, Tasmania

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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