Sunday, February 22, 2009

National Day of Mourning - 2009 Victorian bushfires

Today, February 22nd, has been declared a national day of mourning in Australia due to the 2009 Victorian bushfires. 210 people dead, 1900 homes burned to the ground, 7,500 people homeless and hundreds of thousands of acres burned.
In the midst of a long warming trend coupled with drought conditions the weather took a turn for the worse with hotter than normal temperatures and windy conditions. Both natural fire starts and arsonists caused ignitions and the situation soon exceeded the capacity for firefighters & other emergency responders to control. The results are disastrous.
Fire threatening houses west of Bendigo Australia.

While there are still many details from Australia's worst fires on record to come in I reflect on the times in NE Washington when the conditions line up against us firefighters. Exceptionally hot summer days, with high winds and unstable atmospheric conditions forcasted. It is under those conditions we have seen fires like Hangman Hills, Castle Rock & Rockey Hull fire ravage our area. Another, Fire Storm '91 spread across NE WA with 92 fires ignited in a single, dry afternoon when winds hit 50+mph. 911 Centers were getting a call every 60 seconds. More than 3,000 calls came into the centers overwhelming them all. Alarms were dispatched in "triage" fashion with only life-threatening or structure threatening fires receiving resources reassigned from other incidents or fires. One hundred and fourteen homes were destroyed that afternoon and one fatality occurred. Some people would say "we were lucky". But from the trenches, I'll tell you this, which I know to be true - each fireline that holds, each engine company that accomplishes it's mission, each air drop hitting it's target and every hot, gritty, shovel full of dirt a firefighter uses to knock down a small bite of flames is the foundation of that "luck". These are the reasons firefighters are dedicated to training, committed to responding and willing to go the extra mile when the situation gets so bad that others flee to save their own lives. While I am deeply proud to be a member of the world-wide firefighting community, my hard-hat is off to the firefighters and citizens of Australia in this dark & painful hour.
Photo above of Australian homes threatened - photographer unknown. All the rest of the following photographs are from my personal collection.
A forest fire rapidly spreading through mixed pine & fir timber stand. This is what we refer to as a fire "going vertical" where it spread into the forest canopy.
A very intense forest fire threatening trees in northeastern Washington state. Available fuel on the ground combined with brush below the timber allows
large amounts of heat to develop during dry conditions.

Resulting fires can be difficult to contain and do significant damage to forest, soils and homes within it's path.

As the main fire grows in intensity & size burning embers carried aloft and landing in front of the main blaze start new spotfires. If not controlled these spotfires multiply the problem of containment, increase the fire size and result in very difficult problems for firefighters.
To see actual images of the 2009 Victorian bushfires
Australian Red Cross
For info on FIRESTORM '91


Jeannette St.G. said...

On one of my other blogs an Australian film maker told about the fires and shot pics of the devastation, burnt out cars, etc.
My son-in-law became a firefighter last year, and is now doing his EMT. Attending his graduation, I did not realize till then that it's a paramilitary occupation. My hat off for all of you!
Glad I found you.

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