Category Archives: Bushfire

Stunning NASA images of Victorian fires: why we are choking on smoke

Some stunning images that give you an idea of the scale of the fires we are currently experiencing in Victoria:

And:

Video: Everything was on fire, everywhere: heat, bush-fires and climate change down under

Yes, the very first WtD video

For some time I’ve been considering making short videos exploring climate change, scepticism and related environment issues. This is the first in the proposed series (I hinted these would be coming in a December post).

The above video explores the link between the Australia’s extraordinary summer of heatwaves and fire. What we are experiencing is what the science predicted.

Most of all I wanted to tell a story: of what it means to be an Australian at this point in history, knowing a little something about the science of climate change and seeing scientific predictions play out. It’s about watching the land burn while the planet warms. 

Comments welcome. 

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Burning eucalyptus: Gippsland fires shroud Victoria in a haze of smoke

Stepping out the front door of my apartment block this morning I immediately took note of a scent familiar to many Australians: the acrid tang of burning eucalypts that invades ones nostrils and tickles the back of the throat.

The streets were shrouded in that familiar, and yet haunting, greyish blue haze.

You know when it’s a big one: hundreds of kilometres away you know what kind of beast it is. Out there, in the east it rages.

Perhaps all mega fires have this same smell, but for me the smell of burning eucalypt forests is a quintessentially Australian experience. Words are barely adequate to capture the scale of these fires.

“Yeah, it’s a big one mate…”

For me it conjures memories of catastrophic fires, when whole towns are wiped out and far too many innocent lives are lost.

Even though I was in my very early teens, I vividly recall the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires.

Those fires came after a prolonged El Niño, record drought and severe heat wave. I remember the dead, brown lawns and the dust storm that presaged Ash Wednesday as it rolled across Melbourne’s suburbs.

Standing in the school yard, playing cricket with mates an unfamiliar rain began to fall: black shoot and fire blackened leaves, carried by the same winds fuelling the firestorm.

Perhaps my memory betrays me, but I recall those charred and partially burnt leaves twirling and spinning, hitting the asphalt like small black daggers.

The current Gippsland fire has burnt more the 59,000 hectares and destroyed homes. At least one person is dead.

And there is that smell: of burning eucalyptus.

Off the charts: Climate Commission on the current heat wave

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Australia’s Climate Commission has released a five-page report discussing Australia’s unprecedented heat wave:

Australia is a land of extremes. As global temperature rises, very hot days are becoming more frequent and heatwaves are becoming more prolonged across many parts of Australia.

The heatwave affecting Australia in late December and early January brought extreme heat to most of the Australian continent over a sustained period. Temperatures above 40°C and 45°C were unprecedented in their extent across the continent, breaking new records for Australian averaged maximum temperatures. The heat was also unprecedented in its duration.

They note the climate change connection:

Although Australia has always had heatwaves, hot days and bushfires, climate change has increased the risk of more intense heatwaves and extreme hot days, as well as exacerbated bushfire conditions. Climate change is making extreme hot days, heatwaves and bushfire weather worse.

The increase in extreme weather in Australia illustrates an important way that greenhouse gases are forcing a shift in climate that is very costly. This highlights the need for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The report also highlights the other risks associated with this kind of heat wave:

Heatwaves in recent years around Australia have resulted in increased hospital admissions for kidney disease, acute renal failure and heart attacks, and in death (Climate Commission, 2011). During the severe heatwaves in southeastern Australia in 2009, Melbourne sweltered through three consecutive days at or above 43°C in late January. There were 980 deaths during his period—374 more than the estimated 606 that would have occurred on average for that time of year, or an estimated increase of 62% (DHS, 2009). Most of the increase was among people aged 75 or older (DHS, 2009).

It is a well produced and very accessible report – I’d go so far as to say its a great document to give to that friend, colleague or acquaintance who isn’t clear on the connection between climate change and extreme weather events.

I have to applaud the Commission for creating this document and helping the general public understand the implications of climate change.

The New Normal: BOM predicting temperatures to reach >50c next week (but now revised downward)

The BOM maps showing Australia awash with red were scary enough. But it’s going to get worse. Much worse:

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Update: BOM has revised their estimates. It would be remiss of me not to mention that – however, the predictions are still looking grim.

Stunning images of family sheltering in water as fire rages around them

An amazing story of survival during the recent Tasmanian fires, but first the images:

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From the ABC’s 7.30 Report, transcript below:

BONNIE WALKER’S DAUGHTER: It came from both directions. It came at us and then from the side.

TIM HOLMES: I ended up having to run down through a wooded area on my own, where there was so much smoke and fire, I didn’t know where I was. So I just kept running.

There was a moment of fear that this could be very, very dangerous. But I managed to run through and get to the water’s edge, which was a kind of a sanctuary.

BONNIE WALKER: A few minutes later, an image arrived which was really – it’s still quite upsetting to see the image, it’s all of my, our, five children underneath the jetty huddled up to neck deep sea water which is cold, we’ve swam the day before and it was cold.

So I knew that that would be a challenge, to keep three non-swimmers above water. And with only my mum and dad and our eldest daughter.

BONNIE WALKER’S DAUGHTER: Even though there was hot ash and everything all over us, it was still cold.

TIM HOLMES: We were relying on the jetty really. And the difficulty was, there was so much smoke and ember and there was only about probably 200mm to 300mm of air above the water. So we were all just heads, water up to our chins just trying to breathe because it was just, the atmosphere was so incredibly toxic.

BONNIE WALKER: That was a very perilous time.

TIM HOLMES: And it raged for three hours. Because there was a lot of sort of – well, it was a wooded point. So everything was on fire and it was just exploding all over the place. Yeah, amazing. Just scorched.

JAMES BENNETT: When the inferno finally subsided Tim Holmes salvaged his dinghy.

BONNIE WALKER: My father rallied against all odds and managed to go up and get a little dinghy off the foreshore. Loaded our children in and my mum and then dragged it into a headwind 200m or 300m around the point into the headwind. And got them to safety so that they weren’t breathing the polluted air.

JAMES BENNETT: After a sleepless night at the Dunalley Hotel, late on Saturday, the family is ferried back to safety by sea rescue volunteers.

BONNIE WALKER: I spent a lot of time with good friends and prayed like I’ve never prayed before and I think those prayers have been answered.

CHARLOTTE (BONNIE WALKER’S DAUGHTER): Mummy!

BONNIE WALKER: Yes Charlotte. Those prayers have been answered.

JAMES BENNETT: They’re right in front of you.

BONNIE WALKER: Right in front of me.

CHARLOTTE You’re back!

BONNIE WALKER: You’re home.

Black January: Australia’s month of heat and wildfires and the “lived experience” of climate extremes

NSW fires: image from FaceBook user

NSW fires: image from FaceBook user

Worrying news from New South Wales:

Rural fire crews are responding to dozens of fires across the state, as Premier Barry O’Farrell warns residents to prepare for what could be the worst fire danger day in the state’s history on Tuesday. 

I’m presently caught up with work and real life commitments and not able to write a post today. However, watching events unfold these past two weeks the following thoughts occurred to me:

  • Barely a week into January and it is already shaping up to be an extraordinary month for weather extremes: record temperatures, devastating fires and a heat wave gripping the entire continent
  • Australia has a tradition of naming its worst fire days “Black days” – extreme conditions are extending for greater periods over the Australian continent and creating overlapping fire tragedies: they are being woven into Black Weeks and Black Months
  • The “worst” is yet to come – if you’re Australian you fully appreciate the fire season will last for several more months, thus extending the potential for extremes of heat and bushfires
  • Australia’s fire season is getting longer and the fires themselves are getting worse – trust me, every fire fighter knows this. I was ever so briefly a volunteer fire fighter and never fought a major blaze – but it has been common knowledge for years.

Hence the tentative name for this month – Black January.

Call me alarmist if you will. Perhaps it is far to early to apply such nomenclature – and I very much hope to be wrong. But all indicators are deeply troubling.

Another thought:

  • Should such conditions and the frequency of fires extend for the next several months it may have an impact on the public’s understanding of the science and reshape climate politics much like hurricane Sandy did in the United States. As always, the visceral, lived experience of climate change is what convinces the ordinary member of the public of its reality.

Stay safe if you’re anywhere near these regions.

Exodus: residents forced to shelter “up to their necks in water”; 1000 evacuated by boat from Tasman peninsula; fears for those still missing

The town of Dunalley was devastated by the fires (Source: SMH)

Updates:

  • More than 1000 people have been evacuated from the peninsula to Hobart via boat, with the final ferryload of 180 people departing Nubeena for the capital early on Sunday morning…”
  • There are fears of more casualties, as a number of people remain missing – let’s hope they are all accounted for safely
  • The good news – the fires have been downgraded “…The Forcett fire, east of Hobart, has spread and is still active at Taranna and near the larger communities of Forcett, Eaglehawk Neck and Dodges Ferry.Chief fire officer Mike Brown says the fire has been downgraded from an emergency listing to a watch and act. But he says residents still need to be monitoring the situation.”

A good report from Al Jazeera:

The fires are described as the “worst in half a century”.

Also recommended, the video channel of the Tasmania Fire Service.

My thoughts are with the people and communities of Tasmania.

“Catastrophic” Tasmanian fires; reports of one dead, 80 homes lost

Raw video footage:

From WA Today:

AT LEAST 80 homes have been lost and one man is feared killed by a bushfire that swept down onto the eastern Tasmanian town of Dunalley in catastrophic conditions. The bushfire sent hundreds fleeing and was on Friday night still burning down the Tasman Peninsula, taking more properties as it went. 

The man, a local resident, was last seen by a fire crew attempting to save his house as they were forced to shelter in their vehicle when the fire burnt over them, acting police commissioner Scott Tilyard said.

Extraordinary events, with people fleeing to the sea in order to be rescued:

The Dunalley fire began on Thursday in bushland about 20 kilometres to the north-west of the town and swept out of containment lines on Friday afternoon fanned by strong winds.

It was burning to the sea at several points and also had taken properties at Connolly’s Marsh and Murdunna, local reports said.

Acting Premier Bryan Green said the state government was preparing emergency accommodation, with a report that 600 people were sheltering at one refuge site.

”This has been an extraordinary day,” Mr Green said.

He said around 50 people were awaiting the arrival of police boats to help them leave the waterfront near the top of the Tasman Peninsula where they had taken refuge.

The Tasman Peninsula, including the popular Port Arthur tourist destination, was completely cut off by the closure of the major Arthur Highway.

About 600 people were taking refuge at temporary accommodation at Nubeena and 1500 people were reported to have visited the Port Arthur convict ruins on Friday.

The ABC has a live blog covering the event:

Fires outside Hobart (Source: ABC)

Hobart reaches all time record of 41.3 degrees: bushfires “on the run”

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Outside Hobart (source: The Age)

Via The Age;

Bushfires are on the run in Tasmania, threatening rural hamlets in extreme weather conditions. 

The Tasmanian Fire Service posted emergency warnings for two large fires in the island’s south that broke containment lines. 

The Bureau of Meteorology said Hobart had its all-time record of 41.3 degrees at 1.53 pm on Friday, exceeding a 1976 record of 40.8 degrees, with hot and gusty northerly winds pushing the fires.

And so it begins.

Images from The Mercury (Hobart daily) below:

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