Australia — IN 35 YEARS as a firefighter Jim Schlizio has experienced the worst of Australian fires including the 2010 Victoria firestorms and the 2003 Canberra bushfires.
But the 50-year-old said Friday’s inferno in Mitchell, which closed down parts of north Canberra, had the biggest flames he has ever seen, with temperatures topping 1000 degrees.
”It’s the biggest fireball I’ve ever seen. I mean they were 200m in the air,” Superintendent Schlizio said.
As the recall superintendent on Friday morning, he coordinated police, fire, ambulance and the Environment Protection Authority’s response from a command vehicle about 200m from the blaze.
”We were always going to lose the building,” he said.
”Our major concern was the environment and the plume and the surrounding buildings – containment was our number one consideration.”
Nearby businesses housed gas bottles so firefighters worked to stop the flames spreading.
He said some fires were best left alone because of the danger.
”There was no real benefit in fighting the fire. For a while [about 2am] it had overcome us. To put people in and maintain that position was almost pointless, so I ordered them out and we had a fall back position, it was all calculated, there was no panic.”
He said some of the firefighters were 10-15m away from the fire when the explosions occurred. They were then given the order to fall back 300m.
”We adopted a watch and see position for a while because… we had limited gains on the fire.”
He said once the fuel load within the building was exhausted fire fighters smothered the fire with foam.
Superintendent Schlizio also authorised the alert to the public.
”It’s the first time its been used in real life and we’ll be interested to get feedback.”