Worst ever bushfires in Australia

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  • #1
Astronuc
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Australian wildfires kill 96 as floods bring crocs to town
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090208/ts_afp/australiaweatherfire [Broken]

Unfortunately, the death toll is expected to rise and others are discovered.

. . . . more than 700 houses destroyed by the fires, some of which have been blamed on arsonists.

The devastating fires have affected around 3,000 square kilometres (1,200 square miles) -- an area larger than Luxembourg or nearly three times the size of Hong Kong!
Victoria is facing perhaps the worst drought in history. Temperatures are reaching 117°F (47°C)

Marie Jones said she was staying at a friend's house in Kinglake, where at least 18 people perished, when a badly burnt man arrived with his infant daughter saying his wife and other child had been killed.

"He was so badly burnt," she told the Melbourne Age's website.

"He had skin hanging off him everywhere and his little girl was burnt, but not as badly as her dad, and he just came down and he said 'Look, I've lost my wife, I've lost my other kid, I just need you to save (my daughter)'."
Meanwhile - cyclonic rains are battering Queensland (NE Oz)

. . . . , two people were missing after their car was swept away -- and a crocodile is believed to have taken a boy.

"The boy was walking with his seven-year-old brother earlier this morning when he followed his dog into floodwaters," police said in a statement.

"He disappeared in the water and his brother saw a large crocodile in the vicinity of his disappearance."
Update: 108 killed in deadliest-ever Australian wildfires
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090208/ap_on_re_au_an/as_australia_wildfires [Broken]

My mom talk to family back there, and they said the count was up to 120 killed.

Healesville has a wonderful wildlife sanctuary, which is home to many of indigenous animals. It is just east of Marysville, and apparently at risk.
http://www.zoo.org.au/HealesvilleSanctuary
 
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  • #2
lisab
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Astro, I know that you're Australian by birth, and fuzzyfelt I know you're Australian by heart. I have both of you in my thoughts as I read about this horrible event...such a terrifying story.

I'm sure we have other PFers from down under...my sympathies to all Aussies.
 
  • #3
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I was thinking if the bushfire was really worse or if the people were never informed about the fire. It's hard to believe (and scary as well) that people learned about the fire when it was at their doorsteps. 100 is too many! :(
 
  • #4
mgb_phys
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It's hard to believe (and scary as well) that people learned about the fire when it was at their doorsteps.
Fires aren't uncommon this time of year, it's just that this is bigger than usual. Moving people out in advance would be like evacuating Canada in december because of the risk of snow.
The trouble is that the fire can move at 50mph and change direction, so overnight a fire that was 500miles away could be on you in the morning.
 
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  • #5
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What a tragic event, really horrific film footage on the news last night. I feel really badly for all involved.
 
  • #6
Astronuc
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I was thinking if the bushfire was really worse or if the people were never informed about the fire. It's hard to believe (and scary as well) that people learned about the fire when it was at their doorsteps. 100 is too many! :(
The fires may be the worst in terms of extent and loss of life. Some of the fires appear to be deliberately set.

In some cases, the fires are due to carelessness.

Cigarette butt blamed for West Bendigo fire; two dead, 50 homes lost
http://www.news.com.au/story/0,27574,25027063-1243,00.html [Broken]

I have an aunt and uncle in Bendigo.

More than one dozen fires still burned uncontrollably across the state, though conditions were much cooler than on Saturday, which saw record-high heat and winds of up to 60 mph (100 kph).

At least 750 homes were destroyed on Saturday, the Victoria Country Fire Service said. Some 850 square miles (2,200 kilometers) of land were burned out.
Australian fire zone a crime scene; 131 killed
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090209/ap_on_re_au_an/as_australia_wildfires [Broken]

Arson Suspected in Australia Fires That Have Killed 131
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/10/world/asia/10australia.html

I've seen some speculation that more than 200 people may have been killed. The number killed is now up to 135 as of 0700 EST.


As far as I know, southern Australia has been experiencing its worst drought period on record. That contributes to the very dry conditions that greatly increase the risk and consequences of a bushfire. As mgb_phys indicated, bushfires are relatively common in Victoria and New South Wales during the summer, but usually they are limited or quickly controlled. Suburbs of Sydney had some bad fires last year and in 2002 and 1997.

http://australiasevereweather.com/fires/history.htm
http://australiasevereweather.com/fires/index.html
 
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  • #7
mgb_phys
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Now that it's arson the focus will be on 'catching those responsible' of course rather than working out how to prevent it happening again. How to improve monitoring and warning systems, wether some houses shouldn't be rebuilt in high risk areas and what different fire fighting gear is needed.
 
  • #8
Astronuc
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I think they will give serious thought to prevention.

All of the forested areas (primarily eucalyptus) in the east are at risk for fire, and people like to live outside of metropolitan Melbourne. To make is suitable, they'd have to strip the forests and replant with deciduous species, which are probably ill-suited for the predominantly dry and hot summer climate.
 
  • #9
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Also it could be an idea to have forest free corridors around living areas, denying fuel for propagation fo the fires.
 
  • #10
mgb_phys
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All of the forested areas (primarily eucalyptus) in the east are at risk for fire, and people like to live outside of metropolitan Melbourne.
Thats the problem - the answer "don't live out in the bush amid 1000s of sq Km of frankly explosive trees that burn every year" is a little unpalatable.
You could reduce the risk by limiting where you can build, have brush wood removal, controlled burns, extra hydrants, rescue shelters etc. But it's going to be a lot cheaper and a lot more politically acceptable to blame the whole thing on a couple of arsonists.
 
  • #11
fuzzyfelt
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It is a terrible tragedy.
 
  • #12
wolram
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How many people do a risk assessment for the place where they chose to live, once they have put down roots, could they afford to move, given that other people may know the reasons why they want move.
How much control should a government have on the environment where it allows people to live, should they recover costs with high taxes.
How many disasters would it need to say a city, town, area is not viable for residence,
would New Orleans qualify?
 
  • #13
turbo
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How many people do a risk assessment for the place where they chose to live, once they have put down roots, could they afford to move, given that other people may know the reasons why they want move.
How much control should a government have on the environment where it allows people to live, should they recover costs with high taxes.
How many disasters would it need to say a city, town, area is not viable for residence,
would New Orleans qualify?
Hard questions. Many very wealthy people insist on building mansions in the chaparral canyons of California. The flora there regenerate through regular burns, but as small fires are suppressed (to protect the houses), brush builds up until it reaches a density at which almost any fire grows very rapidly and can be difficult or impossible to contain. These serious burns destroy the root systems that anchor the soil. Under "normal" unregulated conditions the smaller fires are not intense enough to destroy the roots, and the plants regenerate. During an intense wildfire, the roots are destroyed, and the soil is unprotected, resulting in devastating mudslides during the next rainy season.

If I were running an insurance company, I would flatly refuse to write home-owners insurance on these places, or else write policies with very stringent limitations on losses due to fire, mudslides, erosion of property, etc. I am very sorry for the loss of life in Oz, especially innocents like children who have no choice about where they live. Still, it's time that people started taking personal responsibility for their choices.

Our own federal government fosters irresponsible behavior, using our tax dollars to underwrite low cost flood insurance in low-lying zones prone to hurricanes. I for one am sick of paying to rebuild fancy beach-houses every time a hurricane comes ashore.
 
  • #14
Astronuc
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Also it could be an idea to have forest free corridors around living areas, denying fuel for propagation fo the fires.
Toward the southwest and southeast of Melbourne, most of the original forests have been cutdown.

One can see on satellite images the areas that are brown or light green, which are now farm land or housing tracts. Along the M1/A1 motorway, east into the Gippsland area, most of the forest is gone.

The other part of that is the indigenous wildlife need those forests, and koalas particular need the red gums.

https://www.savethekoala.com/koalastrees.html [Broken]


As far as I know, many of those houses do not have municipal water supply. I believe (but haven't confirmed) that they use well water, as I do where I am.

I think what they need is large ground and elevated tank reservoirs, but that will certainly drive up the cost of those houses.

Watch the news from Queensland regarding the severe flooding, Australia ought to think about collecting the rainwater in large reservoirs in the north (QLD) and sending to NSW and VIC - much like the acquifer system in California. The upper Mississippi valley - e.g. Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and any where else that floods catastrophically could use a resoirvoir and transport system to collect flood waters before they destroy towns and cities.

Sad update: Australian fire zone a crime scene; 166 killed :frown:
 
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  • #15
LowlyPion
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Victoria is facing perhaps the worst drought in history. Temperatures are reaching 117°F (47°C)
Not many scientists in Victoria are likely jumping off the warming train this summer. A cooler than last year winter in North America, and look at the snuffling. One supposes there is unevenness elsewhere. But enough of that.

I've been reading the horrific accounts in Victoria. Such a shame and terrible waste and human toll. From the pictures I've seen before, it has been a pretty area. Hopefully something good can rise in its renewal.
 
  • #16
Astronuc
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Koala rescued from Australia's wildfire wasteland
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090210/ap_on_re_au_an/as_australia_wildfires_koala_rescue_3 [Broken]
HEALESVILLE, Australia – Firefighter David Tree and his crew were patrolling land already burnt out by Australia's devastating wildfires looking for flare-ups when he spotted a koala moving gingerly across the blackened landscape.

"I just pulled the truck over, bailed out and went after him," Tree told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "I love nature, and I've handled koalas before. They're not the friendliest things, but I wanted to help him."

The koala, clearly in pain from scorched paws, stopped when it saw Tree following behind.

"It was amazing, he turned around, sat on his bum and sort of looked at me with (a look) like, put me out of my misery," Tree said. "I yelled out for a bottle of water. I unscrewed the bottle, tipped it up on his lips and he just took it naturally. He kept reaching for the bottle, almost like a baby."

Australian official: Wildfire deaths will pass 200 :frown:
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090210/ap_on_re_au_an/as_australia_wildfires [Broken]
HEALESVILLE, Australia – Authorities searching for answers to the carnage from the worst wildfires in Australia's history said Tuesday they would rethink policies that allow residents to decide for themselves whether to evacuate their homes. An official said he expected the death toll to exceed 200.

Authorities defended their preparation and actions during the fires that swept unchecked across southeastern Australia last weekend, saying the weather conditions were so extreme that it was almost impossible to avoid some level of catastrophe. The official death toll currently stands at 181.

But they agreed all current policies would have to be reviewed to prevent a similar disaster from happening again.

Teams moving into towns burned out by the inferno found charred bodies on roadsides and in crashed cars — grim signs of futile attempts to flee raging wildfires fed by 60 mph (100 kph) winds, record heat and drought.

On Tuesday evening, Victoria state Premier John Brumby said the coroner had identified another 50 bodies that had not been counted in the official death toll.

"This is going to be a significant number, it will exceed 200 deaths," Brumby said.
. . . .
The fires near Melbourne, Australia's second largest city at some 4 million people, destroyed more than 750 homes, left 5,000 people homeless, and burned 1,100 square miles (2,850 square kilometers) of land, the Victoria Country Fire Service said.
. . . .
 
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  • #17
Borek
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Horrible, but to some extent inevitable :(
 
  • #18
Astronuc
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Mass deaths feared in sealed-off Australia town
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090211/wl_nm/us_australia_fires [Broken]

KINGLAKE, Australia (Reuters) – Surviving residents of Marysville, where up to 100 more people are feared killed in Australia's bushfires, are still being kept out of town to shield them from traumatic scenes there, authorities said on Wednesday.

The rising death toll in Australia's deadliest bushfires now stands at 181, but could exceed 200, authorities say. If the Marysville deaths are confirmed, the toll may reach 300.

A firefighter who drove through Marysville only 10 minutes before the firestorm hit on Saturday night said people banged on the side of his water tanker, begging his team to help people trapped in burning houses.

"The toll is going to be massive," fireman John Munday said.

Victoria state Premier John Brumby said Marysville, which has been off-limits since the weekend fires, would remain so because of the likelihood of ghastly sights in the once idyllic town.

"There are still many deceased people in homes," he said, adding between 50 and 100 may be dead in Marysville.
. . . .
The disaster area, more than twice the size of London and encompassing more than 20 towns north of Melbourne, has been declared a crime zone. The fires have burned 1,033 homes and left 5,000 people homeless.

More than 4,000 firefighters are still battling some 33 fires in Victoria state, with 23 of those still out of control.
. . . .
The tragedy is the worst natural disaster in Australia in 110 years. The previous worst bushfire was the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983 that killed 75 people.
Given that arson is believed to be a cause, this was not a natural phenomenon, but rather a case of mass homicide.


New arson attacks suspected as Australian fires rage
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090211/wl_afp/australiaweatherfirestoll [Broken]
. . . .
Victoria state Premier John Brumby said there was "little doubt" that several fires had been deliberately lit overnight in the state where at least 181 people -- and possibly more than 200 -- died in blazes at the weekend.

"I think words escape us all when it comes to describing that deliberate arson," he said.

State police commissioner Christine Nixon said investigators were closing in on an arsonist blamed for lighting a fire in the Gippsland region, in the state's east.

As police continue the largest arson investigation in Australia's history, firefighters raised concerns about looters picking through the remains of abandoned properties in a disaster zone about the size of Luxembourg.

"We have had some reports of looting and certainly some (firefighting) volunteers and citizens who have told us that they have seen strange people in their neighbourhoods," Nixon said.

Thousands of firefighters are battling to save communities still threatened by 23 wildfires raging across farms and tinder-dry bushland in the southeast of the country.
. . . .
This is just sickening. :frown:
 
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  • #19
mgb_phys
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Given that arson is believed to be a cause, this was not a natural phenomenon, but rather a case of mass homicide.
But the scale of the fires is a natural phenomenon given the weather and landscape. These fires aren't any different if some of them were started deliberately rather than from a lightning strike or discarded cig.

It's like claiming Chernobyl wasn't an inevitable result of bad reactor design - but was just caused by human error.
 
  • #20
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Given that arson is believed to be a cause, this was not a natural phenomenon, but rather a case of mass homicide.


New arson attacks suspected as Australian fires rage
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090211/wl_afp/australiaweatherfirestoll [Broken]
This is just sickening. :frown:
I haven't heard anything about how to tackle this kind of crisis in the future or why people couldn't be rescued on time or if those lives could be saved, rather they are just putting the blame on arsonists and making things easier for themselves?
 
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  • #21
Astronuc
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I haven't heard anything about how to tackle this kind of crisis in the future or why people couldn't be rescued on time or if those lives could be saved, rather they are just putting the blame on arsonists and making things easier for themselves?
Apparently the federal and state governments have allowed citizens to make their own decision to evacuate rather than order a mandatory evacuation. On the other hand, I have to wonder if the authorities gave timely warnings.

I think people need to rethink living in areas surrounded by fuel. The forest is nice, so are beaches, but there are risks associated with such environments.

The drought and dry forest conditions are certainly natural, although now I read about the impact of climate change and GW.

On the other hand, a mandatory fire protection should be required. My grandparents' old house in the bush had a water tank, it would have had to be 10x larger to deal with such a fire.
 
  • #22
LowlyPion
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I haven't heard anything about how to tackle this kind of crisis in the future or why people couldn't be rescued on time or if those lives could be saved, rather they are just putting the blame on arsonists and making things easier for themselves?
I think there is some truth to that. But I think it is more society that wants a cause to blame, and in the first instance, there but for the arsonist, the people at least on this occasion would still be alive.

Do politicians and bureaucrats want to duck charges of unpreparedness and tactical organization and community response ... I'm sure they do.

They should be thankful that Brownie and Chertoff weren't on loan to the Australian Government overseeing emergency preparedness and response.
 
  • #23
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Apparently the federal and state governments have allowed citizens to make their own decision to evacuate rather than order a mandatory evacuation. On the other hand, I have to wonder if the authorities gave timely warnings.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7883668.stm
According to these people, the system should be improved as they didn't get any warnings.

Victoria's wildfires will be the subject of a judicial inquiry and there will be various inquests, investigations and academic studies that will pore over this unprecedented calamity.

The period of introspection will almost certainly last for many years, given the scale of the tragedy and its effect on a nation's soul.

The disaster in Victoria is one of the most demoralising episodes in modern Australian history. Lessons will have to be learned and the government in Canberra has said that fire safety procedures must be reviewed.

Alerting home-owners by phone is one option that has been suggested.

"I think we really do need to look at our early warning systems," said Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

A woman looks over her burnt-out home in the township of Flowerdale
Local people are asking why officials did not do more to warn them
"In fact, Victoria had been one of the states leading in developing an early warning system, but there are complications of creating a system that doesn't itself overstretch the telephone communication system."

I think people need to rethink living in areas surrounded by fuel. The forest is nice, so are beaches, but there are risks associated with such environments.

I think following is the best solution:

Watch the news from Queensland regarding the severe flooding, Australia ought to think about collecting the rainwater in large reservoirs in the north (QLD) and sending to NSW and VIC - much like the acquifer system in California. The upper Mississippi valley - e.g. Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and any where else that floods catastrophically could use a resoirvoir and transport system to collect flood waters before they destroy towns and cities.
 
  • #24
mgb_phys
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On the other hand, a mandatory fire protection should be required. My grandparents' old house in the bush had a water tank, it would have had to be 10x larger to deal with such a fire.
People that live in tornado prone areas in the USA have tornado shelters. Neighbour hoods in fire prone areas need to have fire shelters.
 
  • #25
LowlyPion
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People that live in tornado prone areas in the USA have tornado shelters.
Unfortunately trailer parks seem to be a magnet for tornadoes.
 

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