SOS call for American firefighters

SOS call for American firefighters

15 January 2007

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Sydney, Australia — Victorian authorities have asked the US to supply up to 100 firefighters to relieve weary crews on the ground in Australia.
As the state braces for another week of searing temperatures, Department of Sustainability and Environment spokesman Kevin Monk admitted resources were stretched and crews were battle-weary.

“We’ve already had twice the average number of fires we have in a season,” Mr Monk said.

The Americans would join more than 3000 firefighters from Victoria, NSW, Canada and New Zealand who are continuing to battle several fire fronts.

Dozens of firefighters were brought in from Canada and New Zealand before Christmas.

Mr Monk said one million hectares had been burnt in Victoria, with four blazes in East Gippsland and northeast Victoria still out of control last night.

Mount Buller ski resort was threatened by a bushfire early yesterday, with flames coming within 100m of the town before the threat eased when the wind changed. But the day was largely quiet on the Victorian firefront, with backburning operations in preparation for temperatures in the mid-30s due to return from tomorrow.

In South Australia, the bushfire season intensified with police declaring a series of 30 deliberately lit blazes in the Adelaide Hills a major crime.

The fires, which have centred on the Hills township of Harrogate, have raised concerns among residents because the firebug is still at large. On Friday, 10 fires were lit in Harrogate and surrounding areas in a few hours in late afternoon.

The only fresh fire yesterday was a small grass fire at Rowland Flat in the Barossa Valley. The deliberately lit fire, which broke out at about 4am, burnt 8ha of grass but was quickly extinguished by firefighters.

More than 200 volunteers from the NSW Rural Fire Service were working to contain a fire burning in bushland near Dubbo, in the state’s central west.

The fire in the Goonoo Community Conservation Area was started by lightning strikes and burnt more than 18,000ha of bushland. A second fire was last night burning to the north of the Goonoo blaze.

RFS crews also attended several smaller fires in the Snowy Mountains yesterday.

Tasmanian police are preparing a report for the coroner into the death of a 19-year-old forestry worker who died on Friday night while helping to fight a fire near St Marys, in the state’s east.

Police said the worker was helping with mopping up operations in the Fingal Valley when a tree fell on the cabin of his vehicle, killing him instantly.

As early as next summer, fire services in every state and territory will be able to use home telephones or mobiles to warn residents their homes or businesses are under threat from bushfire, using technology being developed by Telstra.

Trialling is still under way on a system that would automatically dial people in a region affected by bushfire and leave a message to warn them but also determine whether they are home.

Tests were conducted last year in the Grampians community of Halls Gap in Victoria and proved a success, according to Peter Akers, chairman of the Australian Fire Authorities, the peak body for fire and emergency services in Australia. But Mr Akers said there were still issues with the technology, including contacting non-English speakers and answering machines that revert to a fax. There was also concern that emergency services would rely on the same technology to communicate, overloading the system.

Mr Akers said there was “still a fair bit of trialling” to be conducted, but it was “very likely” to be operational in the 2008 fire season.

“We are keen that people don’t become dependent on one system,” Mr Akers said. “We don’t want people to be reliant on technology rather than learning how to live within a fire environment.”

Mr Akers said fire services were “trying to develop fire resilient communities not dependent societies”.

Once perfected, the phone system would be an “enhancement” to emergency broadcasting on ABC radio and television, fire sirens, websites and publicity machines for each state and territory fire service.

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