Category Archives: bushfires [Australia]

Drones instead of fireworks!

In a recent post, I raged about Sydney staging New Year’s Eve fireworks when so much of Australia is burning. This is a fantastic alternative for New Year’s Eve 2020 and beyond:

My thanks to Carol Cooks 2 for bringing this amazing video clip/technology to my attention.

cheers

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


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.

 

 


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


Warrandyte – burning off in the rain

That pile of ash and charcoal is all that’s left of a huge pile of dead branches, windfall and prunings that I’ve been collecting all winter.

I know it doesn’t look like much now, but that pile was becoming a real danger so, it had to go. And what better time to burn it off than when everything’s nice and wet!

“But isn’t it too wet to burn?” you ask.

Nope. It rained quite heavily early this morning and at 7:00 am, everything was quite wet, including the outer layer of the pile. Inside, however, that pile was dry and ready to burn. I crumpled up a few sheets of scrap paper and shoved them underneath the pile. Then I put a couple of firelighters on top of the paper and set it alight. In an hour, the original pile and huge armfuls of very wet windfall were all gone.

I suspect most of you know where I’m going with this; branch and leaf litter burn extraordinarily well, so if you live in and around Warrandyte, clean up your property now, before everything dries out and the whole area turns into a tinderbox.

Okay, now I’m going to collapse and not move for a while. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 

 


Optus network and EmergencyAus – update

Just thought I’d let everyone know that I can now access EmergencyAus via my browser!

emergencyaus-on-pc

It’s in beta but the most important parts work just fine. You can find it at:

http://emergencyaus.info/map

No download required as it all runs from within the browser.

cheers,

Meeks

 

This morning’s post:

This is a bushfire danger post so if you’re not from Australia, or not interested, look away now.

Okay, my mobile phone carrier is Virgin. Virgin uses the Optusnet network. If the Optusnet network in a given area goes down, the Virgin mobile phones in that area become useless lumps of plastic and circuitry.

My mobile phone became a useless lump of plastic and circuitry this morning. Not just for a minute or two, but for over 2 hours.

What does this have to do with bushfires? EmergencyAus, that’s what.

The EmergencyAus app on my phone sends me notifications of ANY issues within a 5 km radius of my house in Nth Warrandyte. It is my early warning system. It is the one thing that has given me peace of mind since Black Saturday.

If you stayed to defend your house as I did on that horrible day, you’ll know that reliable information was next to impossible to find. I spent all day listening to ABC radio 774 [the emergency broadcaster] and haunting the CFA website. Some horrific reports did come in from people calling in to 774, but the reality was that no one knew what the hell was going on, including me.

It was the not-knowing that terrified me on Black Saturday, and it was the same sense of isolation that made me as nervous as a wet cat this morning. You see, EmergencyAus can’t work if there is no network connection. It relies on my mobile phone to warn me of danger. No phone, no warning. I do have a landline [thank goodness], but EmergencyAus is a mobile app.

According to the Virgin support person I spoke to, an Optus tower was experiencing an unexpected outage, and as it was the only tower I could link to [? how does that work anyway?] I’d just have to wait until it was repaired.

Waiting was not such a huge issue today because although there is a north wind, the temperature is still fairly low after a wintry night. But imagine if this had happened during a heatwave when temperatures reach 40 C plus? That one tower goes down and I’m…f…in trouble.

I suppose I should be grateful to get a wakeup call before we hit a code red day, but I’m not feeling much like Pollyanna today.

Not Happy, Jan 😦

Meeks

 


To the mothers of Yarra Warra Pre-school in #Warrandyte [1]

warrandyte mist at dawnLadies, I know you have small children, and I know you’re run off your feet. You never have a minute to yourself, and sometimes you can’t even go to the loo on your own.

Am I right? I know I am. Nevertheless, as a mother too, albeit a very old one, I ask that you have a look at the questions below:

  1. Do you live on a bush block – i.e. a block with a lot of native vegetation, including eucalyptus trees?
  2. Can you see dead fall [broken branches] in your garden?
  3. Has the wind blown eucalyptus leaves up against the house and fence?
  4. Does your partner work during the week – i.e. is your partner away from the house from Monday to Friday?
  5. Is your bushfire plan to leave?
  6. Have you ever tried to reach the bridge over the Yarra during peak hour traffic?

The more times you answered ‘yes’ to these six questions, the more this post relates to you.

Questions 1 – 3 relate to how bushfire prone your house and land may be.

Questions 4 – 6 relate to what you intend to do if a bushfire threatens. In a best case scenario, the bushfire strikes during the weekend when your partner is home. You all evacuate early and the traffic moves in an orderly fashion. The fire has been an inconvenience, but it never even got close to the house so after a couple of hours, life continues as normal.

But fires do not respect human schedules, so it is far more likely that a bushfire will threaten you on the five days of the week your partner is not at home. You still plan to leave with your children, but you get stuck in the bottleneck around the bridge, along with all the others planning to leave. What then?

Or in an even worse case scenario, what if you’re human like most people, and decide to ‘wait and see’ whether it’s worthwhile packing grumpy kids into the car along with even grumpier pets. By the time you do decide to leave, getting stuck in the bottleneck over the bridge may be a million times more dangerous than staying put.

But…you always planned on leaving so neither you nor your partner bothered reducing the fuel load around your house. Now you’re stuck. You can’t leave and you can’t stay. To my mind, this is the worst possible scenario and it happened, on Black Saturday.

I’m not trying to be a scaremonger, but I am trying to burst the ‘she’ll be right’ bubble. If you want to live in Warrandyte you must plan for the worst case scenario, not the best.

And that brings me back to questions 1 – 3. Even if you plan on leaving very early on every single high fire danger day over summer, you must make sure you have a fighting chance in case things go pear-shaped and you can’t leave.

In order to have that fighting chance, you must make time to:

  1. gather deadfall into heaps – in clearings, not under trees, and
  2. burn the piles off while the weather is cool, damp and NOT WINDY!

Yes, ladies, I’m using the word ‘you’ for one, very good reason – no matter how conscientious your partner may be, he is only going to be available on weekends. That’s 2 days out of 7. What’s the chance that the wind is not going to blow on the day he has free? This year? Less than 50/50.

I don’t know what’s happened to the weather this year but it seems to have been blowing a gale every second day. That, or it’s pouring with rain. Clear, calm days on which it’s safe to burn off have been rare, so it’s become vital that burning off happens whenever the weather allows. Sadly that may only be during the week…when your partner is at work.

What? You expect me to light fires with tiny children hanging around my feet? Are you crazy? Not possible!

Sadly, I’m not crazy, and it is necessary. It is also possible, but not without effort.

I don’t have a small child anymore, but at 63, I know exactly how tiring this job can be because I’m the Mama-Papa in our family. In your family, you may need to ask slightly older children to help Mummy pick up sticks and put them in lots of little piles. You may have to light those tiny piles while the kids are having a nap, or are at pre-school, or with Grandma. You may have to form groups with other pre-school Mums and help each other with child minding while the rest of you do the burning off.

However you do it, though, reducing the fuel load is a must because Warrandyte is a tinderbox waiting to burn. Most of the area is densely covered in Red Box and we are only allowed to clear trees in a ten metre radius around the house. To clear any further out, we have to apply to Nillumbik council for a permit and those permits are never granted.

Red Box are eucalypt trees, and like most gums, their leaves contain volatile oils that burn exceedingly well. The idea behind this evolutionary development is that the oils help the fire sweep through quickly, burning the branches and leaves but leaving the trunk intact. Once the fire is over, eucalypts can re-grow from the trunk, not just the roots. Great for the trees, not so great for us.

The following excerpt is taken from gardening advice developed for NSW but is appropriate for Victoria as well:

Plants in the Myrtaceae family, such as Eucalyptus, Melaleuca and Leptospermum, contain oil glands in the leaves and are more inclined to burn and to spread fire. Plants such as these should be well away from houses. Tall trees, at an appropriate distance from a house can make good barriers to ember attack. The key is to not plant a grove of the same species, but to have trees such as a gum tree or tea-tree in isolation with a well-cleared area below.

Here in Warrandyte, we don’t have the option of not planting ‘a grove of the same species’. For this reason, clearing the fuel load beneath the trees becomes vitally important. If we can stop a fire from getting up into the canopy, we have a fighting chance.

In the next article in this series, I’m going to assume that many women with pre-school children are as clueless about burning off [safely] as I was. I’ll explain about the best weather conditions in which to do domestic burning off, and I’ll detail how I do things.

cheers

Meeks

 


Fire season 2015, Warrandyte – it begins

The authorities have not yet declared fire season open for 2015, but the weather is thumbing its nose at our attempts to tame it with calendars and calculations.

ENSO status graph

We are in the grip of a strong El Nino and it is bringing unseasonal hot spells, dry spells and fire.

Looking out over my property, and Warrandyte in general, I see mostly green, but there is not as much of it as there was last year – i.e. the grass is not knee high and heading for Everest – and the alpacas are having no trouble keeping it manicured.

The downside of this is that I’ll have to give my four-footed lawnmowers some supplementary feed much sooner than I’d like. The upside is that there ‘may’ be less to burn once everything turns summer-brown.

One thing is for sure, we are having a heat-wave in the first week of October. The temperature is forecast to hit 35, which is not that bad, but it will be accompanied by strong north winds.Those winds are the real danger, plus the pattern of north wind turning to southwesterly as the cool change comes through. Any fires still going at the time of the wind change can easily get out of control.

I don’t really believe today will be a super bad day because the ground is still fairly moist. Nevertheless, we’ve already had one 20 minute power outage from a tree down which shows how strong the wind is. It’s really howling. I’m glad I did these jobs early this year:

  • Burning off. I did the worst of my burning off during the cold, damp days of the last two weeks. There’s still quite a bit to do, but the area around the house is clear.
  • I also had the area just outside my fire-fighting pumps concreted so I can sweep or blower-vac the leaves away.
  • The pumps themselves survived the flood I caused during winter and have been checked and topped up. They are ready to go.

fireseason 2015 1

Speaking of that flood, you might like to see the landscaping that was inspired by it:

fireseason 2015 2

Once I found where the agricultural pipe from the pump housing area came out, it seemed silly to have all that potential water go to waste so I dug a lateral channel with a shallow-ish pit up above the quince tree [top third of the picture]. The original channel I turned into a pretend creek bed.

Then I thought, why not extend the creek bed down into the orchard area?

The spindly looking trunks [mid picture] belong to the two feijoa trees. Now half of the ground beneath them is kept cool by the big river pebbles and the other half can be mulched with heaps of mushroom compost. And it looks rather pretty, imho. 😀

And just because I am paranoid, I dug two more pits and filled them with pebbles. Both are deep enough so that I can fill them with water if need be. The seepage will keep the ground moist and the trees happy.

Right. -cough- Fire season jobs still to be completed are :

  • Some mechanical mowing using my electric lawn mower. I only have a few smallish spots to do [where there are weeds that the alpacas can’t eat], but it’s still not something I look forward to. I’m obsessively careful with the electric cord attached to the lawnmower, but that necessary care does slow the job down just a tad.
  • Fixing of one fire-resistant shutter. The cable has become ‘stuck’ so I can’t lower it past the half-way point. Not great as the window it’s meant to protect faces north. Not being able to close the shutter completely also means my poor little office heats up quick smart [it faces north too]. Luckily a nice man is coming out from Eurotec on Thursday.
  • Last on my to-do-list will be a complete test run of all sections of the roof sprinklers.

After all that, the Daughter and I will be back to ‘practising’ our fire-plan. We both have to be competent at getting the pumps started and the sprinklers turned on otherwise what’s the point?

Well, that’s it for now, Warrandyte. If you haven’t already started your preparations for this year, I strongly suggest you get off your butt and do so.

cheers

Meeks

 


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