Category Archives: bushfire

The hailstorm turns Warrandyte green, not all of it good

The hail storm that ravaged Melbourne, and in particular, Warrandyte, was so furious, it literally stripped the branches on the exposed side of the gum trees and piled the debris all over everything. That debris, which is highly flammable, now carpets my block and that of all my neighbours. Cleaning it up is a nightmare.

These are the in-progress pics of the Great Clean Up and the fresh green grass that’s growing up from underneath. Clearing the area directly around the house and the fire fighting pumps has been my first priority:

The concrete and metal pump house with waist high berm in front
Step 1, rake, rake and rake some more
In the background is the corrugated iron, walk-in bin we made

There’s a bit of green pretty much everywhere, but the lushest green is on the terraces near the house where grey water from the laundry has soaked in, keeping the grass from completely drying out. The melted hail, and the good rain that came after, did the rest.

The largest terrace was created from the clay and rock excavated for the site cut. The site cut is literally a flat spot dug out of the slope of the hill to make space for the house.

The pic below shows the set of field stone steps leading down from the top terrace to the ‘orchard’ area. Much of the debris came from the steps themselves and the banks on either side:

Field stone steps

And finally, a close up of the ‘bin’ we made out of star pickets and left-over corrugated iron sheets.

The walk-in ‘bin’ for the debris

The inside measurement of the ‘bin’ is 1.5 x just under 3 metres, so it’s big. Even so, it’s about 1/3 full already and may not be big enough to contain all the debris from the house area, let alone the rest of the block. We can make it a bit bigger, but I don’t want to bring such a huge heap of flammable material any closer to the trees [in case a bushfire goes through and turns it into a bbq].

Once the bin is full, I’ll close off the front, plant a sprinkler on top and keep everything moist until the fire season is over. Gum leaves don’t compost very well so I may have to burn them off in bits over winter. Joy.

Thanks to my neighbour’s house acting like a shield, the hail didn’t cause as much damage in the front as in the back. If we’re lucky, and nothing bad happens before Easter, I may be able to get rid of most of the debris in front via the weekly green bin. It’s not very big, but as I don’t have a trailer or even a car that could tow a trailer, I have no other way of getting rid of the green waste.

Thanks for your great generosity, Nillumbik Shire Council. <<biting sarcasm>> One of the richest shires in Victoria gave us one extra green bin collection to help us reduce our fuel load. I’m sure it bled their coffers dry.

Anyway, time to take up my trusty rake and get back to work.

cheers

Meeks


Windows

Eyes may be the windows to the soul, but windows are the weakest link in our homes. Because they’re fragile. Because they break.

It seems like such an obvious thing now, but I remember how shocked I was when an expert pointed out that the inside of our homes is the driest place on earth. Once a window breaks, even one ember is enough to burn the house down from the inside out.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Yet how many of us have adequate protection for our windows?

When I built my house in Warrandyte, I had to put metal mesh screens over all the windows that could be opened. But my house has double barrel windows where the top pane opens but the bottom pane is fixed. The top pane is protected by the required metal screen [basically an ordinary fly wire screen but made of metal]. The bottom pane is not.

Now, imagine a bushfire scenario. The wind is howling, and the gums are dropping branches large and small. One of those branches is blown towards the house and slams into one of my windows. The top pane may remain intact, but what of the bottom pane?

Yes. Exactly.

I solved my window problem by investing in fire resistant shutters. These shutters cover the entire window area, top pane, bottom pane and the wooden frame. They look like this:

The shutters roll up and down inside the frame [like vertical sliding doors] and are rated to protect the windows for about 20 minutes. That’s the length of time it usually takes the fire front to pass.

The regulations have been tightened up a lot since Black Saturday, and I believe that new houses in fire prone areas must have toughened glass instead of ordinary glass. But what of existing houses? As far as I know, there are no regulations about retrofitting toughened glass to houses built before 2009.

Does that mean there is no danger to those houses? Of course not.

If you live in a bushfire prone area, please think hard about your windows, and what you can do to protect them.

Stay safe.

Meeks


Bushfire 31/12/2019 – update

Just a very quick update to tell you that Malacoota is okay, thanks to a southerly cool change. Unfortunately, the wind change that is now pushing the fires away from the township of Malacoota is putting other small communities at risk. There have also been about twelve new ignitions in Victoria [my state] caused by lightning strikes. The battle continues.

May all the courageous people fighting these fires stay safe until we finally get enough rain to put these fires out for good.

Meeks


Fireworks 2019 – let's call this spade a bloody shovel

Photo of evacuees on the beach at Bateman’s Bay, from the Twitter account of Alistair Prior.

This is the beach at Malacoota, on the Victoria side of the border. Photo taken from the Twitter account of Bluesfestblues.

This is, or was, the historic township of Cobargo, NSW. Three people are unaccounted for. Photo taken from the Twitter account of Siobhan Heanue.

Despite being ringed by fire, despite whole communities huddled on beaches watching their towns burn, despite the growing death toll due to these unprecedented fires…the Sydney Fireworks will go ahead.

What are we celebrating, exactly?

Both Gladys Berejiklian [Premier of NSW] and Clover Moore [Major of Sydney] have made glib remarks about ‘community’, and staging the fireworks for the community.

But which community? The ones with no homes to return to? The ones who’ve lost loved ones to these fires? The ones watching their towns burn even as I write these words?

Those communities don’t have tv’s to watch, but even if they did, do we honestly think they’ll enjoy watching pretty fireworks when their own skies are red with flame and ash?

Do we really think the fireworks will make the victims feel better?

Ah, but Clover Moore says she hopes the fireworks will make people donate to the victims…

Does she really think Australians are that callous, that selfish, that uncaring?

We didn’t need fireworks to donate after Black Saturday. We gave and we gave and we gave. We gave until it hurt because we all knew someone who knew someone who died in the fires, or lost everything. So much less than 6 degrees of separation.

We gave out of shock, out of survivor guilt, out of a genuine desire to help.

But it was more than that. We gave because it was the only way we could show our solidarity, our respect.

We gave as a way to mourn.

It was Australia and Australians at their very best.

No, the New Year’s Eve fireworks in Sydney have nothing to do with community, or caring. They’re all about the tourist dollar, and as such, they are obscene.

We are better than this.

I won’t be watching any fireworks, anywhere in Australia, because we are still burning. Every state, including my own. And things are likely to get worse as the fire season progresses.

There is nothing to celebrate this year. Not a single, bloody thing.

Meeks


Staying cool in 43 C

It’s officially 43 C in Melbourne, and my air conditioner died yesterday, yet the inside of the house is a relatively comfortable 26 C :

The defunct aircon unit showing the temperature inside the house

My office is a fair bit warmer because it’s a small room, and the desktop computer puts out quite a lot of heat [AMD processor], but it’s still bearable.

Magic? No, fire resistant shutters.

I wrote about my fire resistant shutters back in this post. They’ve never been tested in a bushfire situation, but by god they keep ordinary heat out!

The following pics were all taken from inside the house to show the shutters at work:

In the loungeroom
Inside the front verandah
Through the kitchen windows
Old fashioned evaporative cooling, and more shutters.

Almost every door, verandah and window in my house has been fitted with these fire resistant shutters. They weren’t cheap, but every winter since then, they’ve kept the warmth in, saving me money in heating costs. And in summer they keep the heat out, with or without the air conditioner. 🙂

Much as I love my shutters, however, I have to say that on their own they would not have been enough. Part of the reason they work as well as they do is that I insisted on having an insulating foam applied behind the door and window frames. The foam fills up all the gaps in construction conveniently hidden by the frames. A small thing, perhaps, but the foam has stopped those elusive draughts from leaching the heat from the house.

Apart from the shutters and the foam, two more things helped keep us from melting today. The first was the weather overnight. The temperature dropped to 14 C which allowed the cross ventilation in the house to cool everything down before the heat climbed again. If it had been hot overnight, we would have been in trouble.

The second thing is that orange towel shown in the last picture. And no, it’s not my washing. :p

That humble towel is wet, and it’s hanging in front of an oscillating fan. As the water in the towel evaporates, it cools the air. The fan then circulates that cooler air around the small family room and into the kitchen.

My jerry-rigged evaporative cooling is probably good enough for some light cooking but…bugger it, we’re having take away! Ahem. I deserve it.

If you’re an Aussie, I hope you stayed cool and safe today. If you’re from the northern climes, I hope you stayed warm and toasty.

-hugs-

Meeks


Nth Warrandyte – fire restrictions are in!

Fire restrictions for summer 2019/20 began last Monday, December 9, 2019. That means no burning off.

If you do burn off and someone reports the fire, two things will happen:

  1. The CFA will arrive to put it out, and
  2. The police will arrive to impose a mandatory $1000 fine.

From now until the end of the fire season, some time in 2020, there will be no more burning off so deadfall, twigs, dry leaves etc will have to be broken up and put in the green bin.

Unfortunately, the gums don’t stop dropping branches just because there are fire restrictions. This is a pic of a huge branch that fell on my property just a few days ago:

Sometimes known as a ‘widow maker’

It’s hard to get an idea of how big the branch is until you get a glimpse of the trunk of the gum tree behind it [outlined in red].

I had the branch cut up and carted away, but all the small stuff remains. What to do with it?

I’ll be filling the green bin with as much as I can, but the rest will have to be piled up in a large open area down the back. I hate having so much flammable material on the block, but if a fire does come through, at least it will burn in splendid isolation…I hope.

Next Friday, December the 20th, will be a bad fire danger day with 41 C forecast, so prepare what you can now, and if you do intend to leave, do it long before anything nasty starts. The roads around Nth Warrandyte get clogged up very quickly. Don’t get caught.

To those living south of the Yarra river, your Fire Restrictions will start tomorrow, Monday the 16th of December, 2019.

cheers

Meeks


A Bushfire A.B.C

I wasn’t going to write a bushfire post this year [2019] because I thought there was no need, not with the devastating fires in NSW and QLD to focus everyone’s thoughts. But I’ve just been on Twitter and seen some of the misconceptions about bushfires.

So…here are some basics:

Fire needs just two things to burn: fuel and oxygen. However the size of that fire depends on many things:

  • Dry fuel – makes a fire burn harder and faster. Fuel is made of up dry grass, leaves, small twigs and fallen branches that build up on the ground over time.
  • Low humidity – i.e. moisture in the air and soil – makes a fire burn harder and faster.
  • Strong winds – provide the oxygen to make a fire burn harder and faster. They also transport embers ahead of the main fire.
  • Embers – land on dry fuel and start spot fires.
  • Spot fires act like pre-ignition for the main fire.

So far, these conditions could apply to any fire, in any country of the world. In Australia though, things are a little different. As well as all of the above, we also have to contend with native vegetation that evolved with fire. Some native plants developed ways to keep the species going after a fire. In fact, the seeds of many of our natives need fire to germinate.

In a nutshell, most Australian natives evolved to burn. This includes gum trees [eucalypts].

  • Gum leaves contain eucalyptus oils.
  • When these oils heat up enough, they turn into a volatile gas.
  • Add a spark and this gas goes ‘boom’. It’s an accelerant – like throwing petrol onto a camp fire.
  • Lightning strikes from ‘dry storms’ provide the spark that starts hundreds of fires every year.

So let’s look at a couple of what-ifs. Let’s say a lightning strike starts a fire. If the humidity is high and the fuel is wet – e.g. winter – the fire doesn’t go very far.

But this is what happens in summer:

  • Lightning [or human stupidity via an angle grinder creating a spark, an over-heated car starting to burn, a camp-fire left unattended, blah blah blah] starts a fire in grassland.
  • The grass fire spreads into scrub land.
  • The scrub land fire spreads into native forest.
  • The scrub at the base of the gum trees burns hotter and hotter.
  • The eucalyptus oil in the gum leaves heats up.
  • The volatile oil in the gum leaves becomes a gas and suddenly the whole tree is on fire.
  • As more and more trees burn, and the wind pushes the embers and superheated air ahead of it, the conditions for a ‘crown fire’ emerge.

A crown fire is when the fire jumps from tree top to tree top. This is a fire that nothing can stop – no amount of water bombers, no amount of fire fighters, no amount of chemical retardants. In fact, water bombers can’t even get near this kind of fire because it creates its own weather, crazy weather that makes flying virtually impossible.

In 2009, south eastern Australia was in the grip of the Millenium drought and an El Nino weather event. For those who don’t know, during an El Nino period, south eastern Australia goes through an extended ‘dry’ spell with much less rain than normal.

In February 2009, an extended heatwave of 40+ degree temperatures, extremely low humidity, high fuel loads and a ferocious north wind [bringing even more heat from the Centre] combined to create Black Saturday, the worst bushfire event in modern Australian history. 173 people died.

Now, ten short years later, NSW is likely to have another perfect storm of fire conditions…tomorrow…at the very beginning of summer…with the worst of the fire season still to come.

I’ll be honest, I’m scared. Conditions here in Victoria are cool and wet, for now, but the worst is yet to come. How will Warrandyte fare once the grass browns off and the damp fuel load turns into dry kindling? And even if we squeak through this fire season, what about next year and the one after that?

Some years ago I attend a Climate Change rally in Melbourne, and one of the speakers [from the CFA*] said something I’ll never forget. He said words to the effect that there are no climate change deniers at the end of a fire hose.

Climate Change is not causing bushfires, it’s making them bigger and more frequent. Exactly as the climate scientists predict.

Climate Change is also extending the length of the fire season. When I was a kid, January and February were the bad months. In years to come, fire season may extend from the beginning of Spring [September] through to the end of Autumn [May].

Three people have died in NSW already. How many more have to die before we stop ‘praying’ and start doing something useful?

I hope with all my heart that the legacy of Black Saturday means that Victorians remember how helpless we all felt, and act accordingly. We’ve been there. We know. The only thing we can control, even a little, is the fuel load. Reducing the fuel load won’t stop a fire from starting, and it won’t stop a fire from spreading, but it may reduce the severity of that fire by stopping it from becoming a crown fire. Harm reduction. The life it saves could be your own.

And Warrandyte? If you haven’t cleared your block yet, what the effing hell are you waiting for? NSW and QLD may be the canaries in the coal mine this year, but make no mistake, we’re in that bloody coal mine too.

To EllaD and the GO in Taylors Arms – stay safe.

Meeks

*CFA – Country Fire Authority, the volunteer fire fighting organisation in Victoria.

 

 


Last chance to burn off, Warrandyte

Just in case you’ve missed the signs, Monday November 19, 2018 is the official start of the fire season here in Victoria.

That means no more burning off. Period. After the 19th, you will only have the weekly green bin collection to get rid of fallen branches, twigs and gum leaves. Given that eucalypts continue to drop branches and leaves right through the fire season, you’ll need the green bin space for new flammable material, not old.

That November 19th deadline also means you have just 3 more days to get rid of the fuel load around your houses. Unfortunately, the only day that will be really perfect for burning off is Sunday. According to the Bureau of Meteorology [BOM], Sunday the 18th of November will be:

Sunny. Light winds and afternoon bayside seabreezes around 10 km/h.

Today will be:

Mostly sunny. Light winds becoming west to southwesterly 15 to 25 km/h later this morning then turning southerly 20 to 30 km/h during the afternoon.

Tomorrow is supposed to be:

Morning cloud then afternoon sunny periods. Winds southerly 20 to 30 km/h becoming light in the late evening.

For both predictions, it’s not the heat that matters, it’s the wind, and the wind doesn’t have to be a northerly. The fire that destroyed two houses in Warrandyte on February 9, 2014 could have wiped out  the whole township because a really strong southerly was pushing the flames towards the village.

What constitutes a strong wind? I take no chances. To me, 25 km per hour is enough to make me twitchy. If I can hear the ‘freight train’ sound of gum trees wooshing in the wind, I’m lowering the shutters and checking my pumps.

From all indicators, this fire season is going to be a bad one so please become a little paranoid. And take this last chance to burn off.

cheers

Meeks


#VicEmergency, phone app question

With the continued dry weather and fire season fast approaching, I’m a bit worried by the VicEmergency app on my phone. Okay, lie, I’m a lot worried. I get notifications of fires within my watch zone, but the damn phone doesn’t ‘ring’. All I get is a vibration.

When I’m home, the phone sits on my desk so I can generally hear it as it bounces around. If I go to the bathroom or into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, I hear nothing at all. Zero. Zip. Nada.

My phone is a Samsung Galaxy SII with the most up-to-date firmware it can take. I looked up the specs. My phone should be receiving the VicEmergency notifications without any problems. And I do, I just can’t hear them.

I’ve checked the phone and all the settings are fine. I get proper notification sounds for both calls and SMS messages. What’s more, when I was using the now defunct, EmergencyAus phone app. I had a special sound setup just for the notifications. If I heard that sound I knew to go check the phone, immediately.

-sigh- I really have to say this. The EmergencyAus app was ten times better than the VicEmergency app that seems to have pushed it out of the market. VicEmergency should be the better app because it includes data – such as wind direction – that wasn’t available on EmergencyAus. Read this post to see why wind direction is good.

The trouble is, the VicEmergency app is slow to load and slow to update.  I’ve seen fires showing on the app long after they’ve been downgraded to ‘safe’ on the VicEmergency website. That makes me wonder how much I can trust the app to provide emergency info. when there really is an emergency situation. And I can’t hear the alerts. In some ways, that’s the worst thing about the app because I’m now constantly worried that I’ve missed a vital notification. And that will only get worse as the season progresses.

So, the reason for this post is to ask other VicEmergency users out there if you get notifications with sound or not. If you do, what phone are you using?

I can’t afford to buy new phones for the Offspring and me, but I can’t afford to continue with this stress either. Not being able to hear the alerts has dumped me right back into the emotional state I was in after Black Saturday. People died because they didn’t know. 😦

Oh, and I did try to get some info. from VicEmergency itself but got no reply. Don’t you just love government agencies?

Any info. gratefully received.

Meeks


Melbourne – wind direction

Just checked the VicEmergency website and took this screenshot of the wind-direction[s] around Melbourne at the moment:

The little arrows indicate where the wind is coming from, and where it’s going to. The bottom of the picture is ‘south’ so you can see that in the lavender coloured areas down the bottom, wind direction is a steady ‘south easterly’ – i.e. coming from the south and east. In the pale areas, however, the wind is all over the place. Literally.

Why bother with wind direction?

Because you need to know whether a bushfire is being blown towards you or away from you.

To see the wind direction overlay on the VicEmergency map, click the Filter option as shown:

This will open a drop down list. Scroll down the list and click ‘wind direction’. This will display the lavender map at the top of this post.

To get rid of the wind direction overlay, open the Filter menu again and select ‘None’.

If you’re looking at the VicEmergency app on your phone, you have to tap your watch zone first. Once it opens, the Filter option is located up the top on the right-hand side of the screen [next to the ?].

Tap Filter and select the option for wind direction as for the website.

Given how dry and horrible this Spring has been, I think I’ll be keeping that wind direction overlay on at all times.

Stay safe,

Meeks


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