Bushfires in Victoria

The bushfires in Victoria are still burning, although many have now been bought under control, but not before so many homes have been destroyed, and people killed (It currently stands at over 700 homes and 108 people killed (update, now 750 homes, 128 people) – the final total is feared to hit 170 (this has since been increased to a possible 230)).

Update 11 Feb – toll is now 181, with a total now potentially to exceed 300.  $31 million has been raised already in just a few days of donations, but much more will be needed for the years of repair work to come.  If you are trying to donate money, or volunteer time, keep persisting – it is worth it.  I’ve offered to take my portable woodworking workshop up there – not sure if it will be needed, but I’m sure there are plenty of skilled people out there able to offer skills that are needed right now.

Update 15 Feb – toll reached is still at 181, but the toll could jump to over 300 once the hardest town hit – Marysville – is taken into account. In total, 1800 homes and 1500 square miles have been burned. Over $100 million raised in donations.

It has been declared that this has been the worst fire in Victorian history, and given that bushfires (or wildfires as they are known in the States) are a yearly occurrence, and there have been some monumental ones in the past, it has taken some unique circumstances that has lead to the worst on record.

A week earlier, Melbourne had the hottest period in its recorded history, 3 days in a row exceeding 43C, and that sucked so much moisture out of the land. We have plants that have simply dried and died, leaving them tinderbox dry, and this was the case all over the state.

Then came Saturday – the hottest day in Melbourne history – 45.6C (114F), under 5% humidity, and winds hitting 90km/hr (and in some parts of the state, temperatures hit 48C), and that lead to the firestorm that was to come.

We were outside around 1pm, and the conditions were incredible – it wasn’t just the heat (I’ve experienced hotter in Egypt, but not by much), but the wind pushing the heated air past took your breath away.  I can’t begin to imagine the absolute blast furnace conditions that were happening in the bush.  Whole towns have simply vanished.  In the past, people who defended their homes and had all the correct preparations in place were able to protect their assets.  This was something different, and new – there was no dealing with the ember attack, and keeping up boundary cooling.  The fireball that approached these places took the entire house in a single hit. (Under 3 minutes for a structure that size gives you an idea of the ferocity of the fire).

So the state is in shock at the moment.  Areas are being described as being warzones, but they are not that – wars are a deliberate act, and this was the full force of nature.  Granted some of these were deliberately lit, and god help them if they are caught. Others the results of morons mindlessly flicking their cigarettes out of their car window. Update – more and more are appearing to have been deliberately lit.

The rest were simply nature’s ability to unleash hell.

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In a country that experiences regular bushfires, I still fail to understand why we only borrow one (and then rush in a couple more when desperate) of the Erickson S-64 Air-Crane Helitankers.  So they cost $US25 million or so.  And?

I’m not sure how many were available for the firefight on Saturday.  I suspect there was only 1 here in time – the one that Victoria leases every year for the bushfire season. IMHO, we should own (at least) one in Victoria, another in NSW, (one which could be leased out during the off-season), and still bring in at least one on lease.  If one is great, how much better would three have been – either two working on tandem on a single fire, (dropping 9 tonne of water each trip and able to refill in 30 seconds), with the third on a different fire, or one on each of three main fires.

The CFA had serious issues protecting whole towns due to an inability to access them because of the fires, fallen trees, car accidents etc.  Give the CFA the resources they need, and an S-64 would certainly be a good step.  I don’t doubt for a moment that it wouldn’t have a long, hard working life – it isn’t something that would sit idle in this country.

(The S-64 is also known in Australia as Elvis, as the first helitanker that came here that was used to great effect was the one from Memphis, dubbed Elvis obviously.  There are so many reports of people’s houses about to go when “Elvis” entered the scene, dropped its load saving the house in that 1 approach, and headed off to the next critical site.)

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