The Fires By Walrus.


I am a member of august clubs and societies around the world but the membership I most treasure is that of a volunteer fire fighter in the local brigade. To be judged worthy of a place on the fire ground is, to me, the child of immigrants, a pearl beyond price precisely because it is awarded, not by the great and good, but by tradesman, farmers, shopkeepers – the least in society who have judged me capable of serving the community. I am so proud. A month ago I was part of a strike team sent to Northern New South Wales for a week to grapple with their fires, I even got a lift home in a C17 Globemaster.

We are currently facing bushfires near us affecting five times the size of last years California blazes  – 500,000 Hectares, 1.2 million acres across the Northeast of Victoria and into New South Wales. Our truck was called out to join a strike team of five tankers at seven am on New Years Eve to go about a hundred miles north to grapple with the edge of the monster which we did, leaving our tanker for a changeover crew early on New Years day.

Today is the critical day for us. We are forecast to experience a hot gusty dry North wind and about midday to receive a violent, gusty Southwest change which will change fire directions over ninety degrees. There are at least two dead and twenty plus missing. Two young Firefighters were also killed when a "fire tornado" overturned their ten ton truck. The Northeast  has been declared a disaster area and been under evacuation orders for days except for those who want to try to defend their homes. The Defence forces are helping, a Navy ship has just lifted a thousand from a remote beach community, however helicopter operations are hampered by a smoke cloud that stretches all the way to New Zealand.. No doubt more will follow because these fires struck at the height of the summer holiday season. Most tourists have followed advice and evacuated themselves. Only some locals, firefighters and the odd idiot remain. There are some communities cut off who must try to shelter in place.

The fear of the command – that we hope is not realised, is that these dozens of out of control fires are going to join together and create a firestorm of a size not seen before by humans. The scientists have stated that their models cannot predict what is going to happen, these big fires create their own weather. Our efforts today are focused on lives and critical infrastructure. Hopefully their concerns aren't realised. Hopefully our brigade, with its replacement truck, will be held in reserve, ready to defend our local area. Hopefully there are enough young crew so that they don't need an old fart like me today and hopefully are domestic fire precautions will not be needed to defend our home.

My policeman son rang this morning to say he now understands why the emergency services managers are paid so much. They are probably going to have to explain to a coroner what they did today.

The cause of these fires? Australian drought and the highly inflammable nature of the Eucalyptus tree – coupled with the forest management fantasies of inner city liberals who won't allow anything like the levels of fire reduction burning as practiced by our Aborigines for thousands of years. The greenies can't handle simple logic; Eucalyptus forests shed fuel all the time. You can have little "cool' fires every five years to clean up the fuel or a big fire every few decades, but you eventually will get a fire. You do the maths.

I hopefully will be able to write an anti climactic comment tomorrow for you.

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19 Responses to The Fires By Walrus.

  1. Jack says:

    I feel for you! Couple years ago a wildfire burned my home.
    Best wishes and keep safe.

  2. different clue says:

    I do not know about the history of eco-politics in Australia as against in America. I know that in America fire-suppression, including the total suppression of traditional “Indian burning” for habitat maintainance, was begun decades before the emergence of any modern greenie movement politics here. And it is the greenies who have begun saying ” give Indian burning a second look”.
    So I can only wonder when fire suppression began in Australia . . . and when greenie politics began . . . and which came first and by how much. And how your Australian greenies feel about the concept of Aboriginal burning.
    I have also read that the part of the Blue Mountains which is the national park has traditionally been considered rainy forest if not outright rain forest. If what I read about that is generally correct, then was the Blue Mountains rainy forest ever within the zone and scope of Aboriginal burning?
    If it was, then the same theory applies. If it wasn’t, then how normal is the dryness in that particular area which has set it up to be such a good fuel bed?
    But those are things to think about when safety and leisure return. For now I hope you-all can keep all the smaller fires separated and apart. Because as Australia goes, so goes California. And then the rest of the West.

  3. PavewayIV says:

    August clubs? Unfamiliar with that term, Walrus. Sorry for the hard times down there.
    For US readers, scale of burnt/smoke area so far relative to US:
    Unfortunately, GFS forecast shows only marginal precipitation until mid-month: (click on VCR-like ‘Play’ button to animate graphic)

  4. Rick Merlotti says:

    Dayum! Good luck to you, sir, and all your compatriots.

  5. Upstate NY'er says:

    I thought Australia was one big flat hot semi-desert.
    Guess not

  6. elaine says:

    Walrus, Be safe & thank you for your work. I just read a story on Summit.News:
    “Australian police say arsonists & lightening to blame for brush fires, not climate change.” The damage to people, their homes & wildlife is heartbreaking. So much
    of the rainforest in S. America is burned intentionally to make way for farming
    & development & yet the climate change advocates only laser focus on fossil fuel.

  7. oldman22 says:

    My sister lives in Gippsland, she is safe but dealing with smoke. She was incensed by Morrison’s actions and statements. Here:
    “This (article)tells you more of the background.liam just sent me photos of friend visiting inlaws at mallacoota, showing the next door burning down and trying to fight the fire coming over fence.they are still stuck there with 2 yo and 4 yo, supposed to get out by air but adf cldnt land because of smoke and choppers busy being used to evacuate omeo.
    So dont even give any airtime to this bs about the crisis being due to inner city progressives or greenies not allowing burn offs! This is drought due to climate change, temps in 40s and summer only getting under way.”
    Morrison’s government on the bushfires: from attacking climate ‘lunatics’ to calling in the troops

  8. Terry says:

    Controlled burns were a traditional practice where I grew up until the forestry department banned the practice. 20 years later and a 500,000 acre fire they restarted the practice but only under their control.
    I still clearly remember the day when a forestry agent assumed a nearby burn was started by my father. He jumped out of his car and started berating my dad. He got quickly grabbed and tossed back into his car and sent on his way. Nowadays they would have returned with a swat team.

  9. Bill Hatch says:

    Walrus, Good luck to you & all Australians in fighting & surviving the fires.
    I live in south central SC. Prior to the coming of the English, this area was a hunting ground for the Cherokee who used fire as a hunting aid. We still use controlled burns for forest management in spite of criticism by the “snowflakes”.
    Several years ago I was in WY. The fir trees in the Big Horn Mountains became infested with pine bark beetles. The lumber companies wanted to harvest the dying trees; but, since they were on federal land, logging was not permitted. A few years later the forest fires started. They were fed by all of the dead trees. Then the government began to pay companies to remove the dead trees to prevent forest fires. The tax payers dollars at work.

  10. Terry says:

    I was reading that the British were the ones that had a total control policy towards fire that was replicated in various countries prior to the the anti-fire people getting involved. Those against fire are a mixed bag of homeowners not liking fires near their land, people worried about animals, misguided environmentalists, and neurotics… and probably those still influenced by the British way.

  11. Vegetius says:

    Would be interesting in talking to a fire behavior analyst or fire ecologist and finding out what the typical natural interval is for that fuel model.
    Also, are you running into any melaleuca? Paperbark, same myrtle family as eucalyptus. When it is disturbed it smells like eucalyptus, or maybe Vicks vapor rub, and has a black smoke almost like diesel when you light up shitcans.

  12. different clue says:

    Arson should be stamped out fast, and so hard that wannabe-arsonists are too scared to arsonise.
    That said, the question arises . . . arson can start the fire. Or so can a stray spark-ember from a grill. Or a car with a hot muffler parked in muffler-height dry grass. But if a longer-hotter drought than normal has made a bigger area of woody vegetation dryer than normal and hence a better fuel-bed than normal if/when the stray ignition source arrives, that is a problem beyond just the ignition source.
    Some of that problem could be pre-mitigated with controlled burns every so often so fuel beds don’t develop to oversized amounts to begin with. Fire suppression all over the American West has left forest with huge amounts of fuel ready-to-burn with any spark. Its like a bunch of natural organic H-bombs are just quietly sitting out there in the woods. And climachange is worsening that particular problem by preventing the normal super-deep kill-freeze days which would normally kill the resting bark beetles and/or some of their eggs over the winter. So milder-winter unkilled bark beetle populations have reached plague status in some of the Western forests, leaving several billion dead trees standing in place waiting to burn.
    Once the Australians get the fires put out or otherwise controlled and have the time and leisure to think long-range about fire-adaptation, might new designs of fire-proof houses be worth considering? Houses made of rock, cement, concrete, etc.; with zero wood or paper or plastic or any other flammable item of any kind permitted in the construction? Ember-proof steel roofs, etc?
    Steel thermal heat-reflective fire-shutters ready to pull down over every window to keep the passing flash of flame-front infra-red heat rays from entering the house through the glass window? Etc.?
    And if government mandating for such housing re-design would be considered intrusive, perhaps lenders and insurers might take it upon themselves to quietly privately refuse to lend for non-fireproof houses and refuse to insure non-fireproof houses in the future.

  13. The Beaver says:

    This chap has a lot of satellite images of the fires:
    Like he said: mind blowing images
    Heartbreaking videos last night on the news on France 2

  14. elaine says:

    Come on Walrus log back in, tell us you’re ok.

  15. Johnb says:

    I’ve found both of your posts thoughtful and potentially productive ‘different clue’. Back in the 50’s and 60’s when I was doing winter cool burns as standard practice, as were my neighbours it wasn’t too difficult and if things got away those neighbours would pile in to recover the situation. Our ridge lines had a dry side and a wet side based on orientation and way down in the bottom was leech country, permanently wet. That is no longer the case, as you suggest everywhere is dry and flammable, there are numerous instances where classified rain forest has burnt for the first recorded time. Back when we also had the luxury of a good four months to utilise in hazard reduction. This year we had less than eight weeks of,permit free burning and in my area a total fireban from August. In addition to barely time to scratch the resources needed in manpower and machinery to do a hazard reduction burn over thousands of hectares are simply not there, it is all way beyond the capacity of the volunteer Rural Fire Service sheds never mind the local Bushfire Brigades I first knew. As you suggest a whole new paradigm is needed in both organisation and resourcing we can but hope that there is follow through once this national emergency has passed

  16. Extra says:

    It’s late afternoon as I write this in Canberra. The smoke is still so thick there’s been no sign of the sun all day, just glaring brown haze and intermittent gusts of dense smoke, and fine ash settling everywhere. The wind is picking up again, but at least it’s cooler.
    The political battle over the fires has taken off almost as fast as the fires themselves. The Government has finally mobilized some military units and reserves, and as always, they are doing an excellent job. A Navy vessel has been evacuating civilians from beaches in East Gippsland, where they had gathered as a last refuge. Others are being helicoptered to safety.
    The Prime Minister’s visits to burnt areas haven’t gone so well. He’s been abused and cold-shouldered because people are well aware that the Government he leads has come very late to the party, and not just because he’s demonstrated all the empathy of a house-brick.
    The Government and the anti climate change brigade have gone on the initiative with predictable media management techniques. Prime among these are diverting attention from the central issues and creating uncertainty.
    For diverting attention, the Government has frantically whipped up a series of advertisements showing how they’ve responded. These ads haven’t been well received, not just because they are so blatant. The fact that a ‘Donate’ button on an internet advertisement linked to the Liberal Party coffers, not a fire victims’ charity didn’t help either. And credibility wasn’t enhanced with the ‘Australian Army’ image of a shoulder patch that turned out to be a stock image of a Polish uniform with an Australian patch photoshopped on top.
    Another tactic from the PM’s media minders has been to spread the idea that most the fires have been deliberately lit, and that a greenie/leftie conspiracy to prevent hazard reduction burns is to blame. That’s why some overseas correspondents will have seen journalists intoning about catching arsonists etc.
    Don’t fall for it. Deliberate firelighting certainly goes on, and people get caught, but there’s no evidence that it’s the major factor implied by these journalists. Lightning strikes, accidents (eg electrical transmission faults) and ember spotting are the main culprits.
    The basic fact of the situation is that fires don’t behave the way they used to, due to a long-term drying trend (rainfall in southern Australia down by 10 to 20 per cent since 1970) and increased temperatures (new records set yesterday). Fires get into the forest crown earlier, so that ground-level hazard reduction is less effective.
    These links are worth a read. The first for some expert commentary, the second gives an idea of what Walrus is doing and what he’s up against.

  17. Bobo says:

    Hopefully things are better today, if not, they will in time. I find the NSW Rural Fire Service site to be very informative, no fluff just the straight scoop, something our EMS should emulate here in the USA.
    Wishing you a calm day, calm wind and God Speed.

  18. Johnb says:

    Yes Extra, these fires are not behaving the way they used to. In the temperature extremes exacerbated by the heat of the fires eucalyptus oils have been vaporising and generating a flammable layer above the tree crowns which has then ignited in a flash burn that has then ignited the tree crowns and the falling debris has ignited the surface fuel load, the surface fire is lagging behind the crown fire. This is how fire crews have been caught out and found themselves at great risk, the fire has arrived above and beyond them. For these fires arson is a red herring for several reasons, lightening strikes are monitored and where an isolated fire breaks out the coordinates are plotted and an investigation takes place, a householder was prosecuted on the North Coast for burning rubbish that got away. It is normal where fires start from natural causes and strong winds carry the burning embers for isolated fires to start way ahead of the main fire front, we have had burnt leaves arrive on our verandah with the nearest fire kilometres away. We are in a new paradigm and new thinking is needed, the only saving grace is that once this extended fire season is over there will be a short period when this necessary thinking and action can take place.

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