Tag Archives: bushfire

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, bushfires & PALs

It’s only half way through September, and the grass is still green, but scratch an inch or two below the surface, and the ground is bone dry. Or at least it is in hilly Warrandyte where the rain flows off long before it can properly soak in.

So, I’m worried about the fast approaching bushfire season. East Gippsland is said to be most at risk this year, but the Green Wedge in Nillumbik Shire can’t be too far behind. And we have more people living in the shire:

‘The Nillumbik Shire Estimated Resident Population for 2017 is 64,626, with a population density of 1.50 persons per hectare.’

That’s a lot of people, but when you look at where most of them live, the figures take on a deeper meaning:

The area outlined on the map is the Shire of Nillumbik. If you read the legend to the right of the map, you’ll see that most of our population clusters in the pink and red areas to the south [the pink area circled in orange is my area, North Warrandyte].

An important feature not shown on the map is that much of the southern part of the Shire is intersected by the Yarra River.

The two areas circle in orange represent the two bridges that are the only way of crossing the Yarra from my side of the Shire.

The Offspring and I live on the north side of the Yarra, so we have to cross the Warrandyte bridge to get into Warrandyte Village, and from there to somewhere further south.

That bridge is currently being extended from 2 lanes to 3, but it’s not finished, and access is even worse than normal. Going in the other direction, we have to go through Eltham and cross a second, 2 lane bridge to get south of the river.

Guess which direction the worst bushfires come from! Clever you, yes, the north. Caught between fire and water, lovely.

Now, let’s have a look at the terrain around Nth Warrandyte. This is an aerial view of the area around the bridge:

The blue line is obviously the river. The red bit is the bridge in the middle of the orange bullseye. Up from the bridge is Nth Warrandyte. Down from the bridge is Warrandyte village, a popular tourist spot on weekends.

A feature you can’t see from that aerial photo is the terrain. Up hill and down dale describes it pretty well. The perfect playground for bushfires that love racing up hill.

All that dark green stuff? Gum trees and scrub, all of it native and all of it evolved to burn. My block is  relatively open, but further from the main road the blocks are densely treed and the only way in or out is often via dirt roads.

I have every fire protection under the sun. Most of the houses in my area have nothing. Even the pre-school and CFA fire station are nestled in amongst the trees with no in-ground water tanks, roof sprinklers or fire-resistant shutters. The area is a bushfire disaster waiting to happen, and Nillumbik Shire Council has done nothing to mitigate the risk, for years and years and years. If you’re interested, here’s a post from May, 2017 that looks at the Council’s budget for bushfire mitigation. Yup, they really take it seriously…

So, I’m worried, but this year there may just be a bit of hope on the horizon. Two years ago, an organisation called Pro-active Landowners [PALs] became a force to be reckoned with, and the Council elected in 2016…changed.

The following recommendations are taken from a recent PALs submission to Council:

Essentially, PALs is recommending that the bushfire danger in the Shire [which is huge] be managed.

It sounds so simply, yet for decades, Council has done anything but. I don’t know whether the interest group within the Council felt that nothing could be done to manage the risk – i.e. act of god etc. Or they were so determined not to let big, bad developers ‘ruin the green wedge’ that they were happy to see it all burn instead.

Council mitigated nothing while tying the hands of the CFA [the Country Fire Authority is supposed to save us from bushfires]. Worse, Council stopped landowners from protecting themselves either. You have no idea how good it feels to finally have a voice.

If the PALs recommendations bear fruit, we will finally be able to reduce the fuel load in the Shire. Fuel load is the leaf litter, twigs, branches and undergrowth that feeds a bushfire, and Warrandyte has masses of it. But even if every resident of Warrandyte cleaned up religiously, there are great swathes of public land that are virtually untouched because the previous Council wanted to keep things ‘natural’.

The irony is that the Green Wedge is anything but natural.

Pre-settlement, the Aboriginals used to manage the land by doing many, small, cool burns. These cool burns created a patchwork of burnt and unburnt land so that the native fauna had somewhere to escape to. The net result was that the fuel loads never grew too high.

In areas not managed by the Aboriginals, nature itself managed the land with lightning strikes. Lightning would start small bushfires that would run until they finally died out. Again, because these small bushfires happened so regularly, the fuel load did not have a chance to become truly dangerous.

And then the white man came along with his English farming practices. Farmed land had to be protected, so bushfires had to be put out before they could do much damage. The net result was that parts of the land were over managed – i.e. the farms – and great big areas were left completely unmanaged, allowing the fuel loads to grow. The character of the land changed, and the bushfires turned vicious. 1939 was a very bad year, and so was 2009.

2009 was the year in which ‘…173 people tragically lost their lives, 414 were injured, more than a million wild and domesticated animals were lost and 450,000 hectares of land were burned’ in the Black Saturday bushfires.

If you’ve ever built a camp fire, or an open fire in a hearth, you’ll know that fire needs just two things to burn – fuel and oxygen. That’s why you build a teepee of twigs and dry kindling to start the fire. The open structure allows air in to feed the flames. After the fire is going though, the kindling is no longer needed because hot air rises, sucking in cooler air from below.

A bushfire does much the same, and the bigger the fire the more powerful it becomes, preheating the fuel ahead of it so it will burn even faster. The Black Saturday fire was so powerful, it generated its own weather.

No amount of human technology could have stopped the Black Saturday fires once they started. But a bit of wisdom might have stopped them from starting, or at least reduced the loss of life. But we weren’t wise.

Two acknowledged experts in bushfire behaviour submitted reports to Nillumbik Council prior to Black Saturday. Both reports warned about the dangerous levels of fuel in the Shire. Both reports were ignored. 9 years on, the lessons still have not been learned: when it comes to bushfires, fuel load is the only thing we can actually control.

The Black Saturday Royal Commission recommended mandatory prescribed burns of 5% to public lands each year. They haven’t happened, and part of the reason they haven’t happened is because of the bureaucratic red-tape that’s required before a burn can take place. Sadly, the weather rarely keeps these kinds of ‘appointments’ so either burns are cancelled because the conditions are all wrong – rain or high winds – or they go ahead in less than optimal conditions. And sometimes they get out of control. So even less incentive to do burns.

I’m no expert on bushfire management, but I can’t help wondering why we can’t let the CFA do mini burns every single day that the weather conditions are suitable? Why do burns have to be these big, dangerous things?

When I burn off, I do lots of smaller piles rather than one huge one. It makes sense to me. Mini burns, often. It would work, why can’t we at least try it?

The PALs submission to Nillumbik Shire Council may not solve all our bush fire woes but it would be a huge step in the right direction. Fingers and toes crossed that commonsense finally prevails in the Shire of Nillumbik.

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

 


Vent – the worst New Year’s Eve ever

Here in Australia the countdown to the New Year has begun – 14.5 hours to go if my arithmetic serves – but my mood is anything but festive. I just learned that my car is ‘cooked’.

For the mechanically challenged, ‘cooked’ is a technical term that means the engine is cactus, dead-as-a-dodo, finito. 😦

Apparently some part of my radiator broke off completely as I was driving home yesterday [in the heat with a car full of perishables]. The engine immediately started to overheat but I didn’t notice because…the engine was making a very worrying noise. Totally focused on the engine noise, and desperately trying to calculate whether I could limp home regardless, I didn’t notice the temperature gauge rocketing off into space. By the time I finally pulled over and the engine ‘stopped’, it was all too late.

I know all this because I have a wonderful mobile mechanic who checked the car out once it had cooled. He gave me the bad news just moments ago.

What happened to me and the shopping yesterday? That’s the fortunate part. I’d bought a bag of ice in case we have another blackout tonight so I was able to perch most of the perishables on the ice until The Offspring could come pick me up. My poor old car is still sitting by the side of the road though.

Once I hit publish on this post, I’ll have to ring the RACV [roadside assist] and get the car towed home. Then I’ll have to do a lot of grim thinking, and more sums. I’m not quite destitute, but the dog needs her –cough– anal –cough– glands removed so that’s an unbudgeted expense, and now I’ll either have to fix the car somehow, or buy a rust bucket that may end up being far worse.

Just for the record, I’ve had Jimmy [my Corolla] since it was 5 years old. Jimmy is now almost 28 and we’ve grown old together. I don’t want another car…unless it’s a Toyota Prius, but even second hand that aspirational vehicle is waaaaaaay out of my reach.

So, at this point it looks as if I’ll have to wait until the wreckers open up again in early January. Then I’ll have to cross my fingers that my mechanic will be able to find a decent second-hand engine. Then the actual wait while the work gets done. Finally, I’ll probably have to pay between 3 – 4? thousand dollars and I’ll be mobile again. All during one of the worst bushfire seasons we’ve had in a while. Not great.

All things are doable if they have to be done, but juggling everything with just one car in a fringe area like Warrandyte where public transport is…minimal…will be a challenge. It will mean racing out to do the shopping at the crack of dawn so I don’t leave the Offspring alone in the house with no way out for too long. It will mean feeling just a tiny bit fenced in. It will be unpleasant.

BUT!

If this is fate’s way of hitting me with the small stuff so I can avoid the great, big fiery elephant in the room then so be it. I can live with that, but I’m not going to enjoy the first couple of months of 2016 and that is the honest truth.

-sigh-

And now enough of this belly-aching. Thank you for letting me vent. My online friends have been both inspiration and consolation on more occasions than I can name. Thanks guys. Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve but stay safe, okay?

Much love,

Meeks

December 31, 2015


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

 


EmergencyAus – great tech support!

I recently wrote a post about a smartphone app called ‘EmergencyAus’. It was not a happy post because I was not getting all the available notifications about potential bushfires in my area.

[Note: one of the things I’ve always hated about summer/fire season in Warrandyte is the fear of not knowing when a fire is nearby. By the time ABC radio 774 broadcasts a warning, you’re already on the back foot. What the EmergencyAus app does is send SMS warnings to your smartphone whenever a fire starts anywhere in your ‘watch zone’, i.e. 5 km around my home. But in order to relax a bit, you have to trust that the alerts will get through to you.]

As well as ranting here, on my blog, I also sent off an email to the EmergencyAus tech support people.To be honest I did not expect tech support to do much – email support is very hard at the best of times.

Imagine my surprise, and delight, when I discovered that EmergencyAus tech support really do provide support. Not only did they finally sort out my problems, but they stuck with me through 28, yes TWENTY-EIGHT emails [I know because I just counted them]. That …is patience with a capital ‘P’!

With another hot day coming up, I’d like to say thank you to EmergencyAus for helping me get my peace of mind back. Thanks guys. 😀

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the problem seems to be an older version of Android teamed with Google apps that haven’t been updated since the year dot.

cheers

Meeks

 


SP Ausnet to Black Saturday to dollars

Around this time last year, I wrote a post about the houses lost to fire here in Warrandyte, and the possible role SP Ausnet had played in those losses.

marysville fire picAt the time, even I felt as if I was doing a bit of conspiracy theorizing. Today, however, I know I was spot on the money because it was just announced on the media that the third, Black Saturday compensation claim against SP Ausnet has been settled out of court. This particular compensation case referred to the township of Marysville [see photo to the left].

Apparently all three Black Saturday compensation cases concerned some kind of equipment failure. The equipment was/is owned by SP Ausnet, and the utilities company has denied all liability. BUT. Counting the three, separate compensation cases, the company has agreed to a total of $648 million dollars in out of court compensation payments.

At some point I expect to hear that the families involved in last year’s Warrandyte fire will also receive hush money from SP Ausnet.

To be honest, I consider that $648 million to be cheap. The survivors whose lives were smashed by the Black Saturday fires will receive approximately 60% compensation for their losses. 60%. Think about that. Where is the compensation for living the rest of your life with nightmares?

And what of the rest of us? If the worst bushfire in Victorian history was caused by equipment failure, and possible negligence, then what hope do we have that the same perfect storm of events will not happen again?

I’m not optimistic. Even people around Warrandyte have become complacent, and that is likely to get worse as the years go by. People forget, perhaps because it’s easier to live out here if you bury your head in the sand.

The only sign of optimism I can see is that the insurance companies that underwrite companies such as SP Ausnet will not be happy. They may demand an investment in safeguards that the victims themselves can never achieve.

I hope so, because with no legal liability recorded against them, SP Ausnet is under no legal obligation to lift its game. Think about that.

Meeks


Warrandyte swelters… and we all hold our breaths

Temperatures of 41 C [105.8 F] are forecast for today, with strong northwesterly winds pushing south before a cool change tonight.

What does all that mean for us? Very, very high fire danger, that’s what.

As always, it’s the northerly wind that turns an unpleasant day into a dangerous one. Add a dry summer to the mix, and the potential for lightning strikes, and suddenly a dangerous day can quickly become fatal.

Here, in Australia, we are told we are responsible for our own safety during bushfires. We are not forced to evacuate, which can be a good thing if, like me, you have systems in place to protect yourself if all else fails. Unfortunately, not many people are prepared to spend their hard earned cash on fire fighting equipment they may never use.

Those people often say they will leave if a bushfire threatens, but few have any idea of when they should leave. Most stay at home, monitoring the situation and doing a ‘wait and see’.

I can sympathize with that very human reaction. None of us want to leave unless we really have to. Where will we go? What will we do with the animals? The kids? Elderly parents? And beneath it all is something we all know but avoid facing – if we leave, will we have anything to come home to?

That human response is the elephant in the room, and the fatal flaw in the current bushfire strategies. It may give the authorities a legal ‘out’ should something go pear shaped, but it’s of little use to actual residents.

So in case you’re reading this, here are some facts :

The time to leave is either the night before a bad day, or early in the morning – i.e. before there is any danger.

Why? Because once a bushfire does threaten your area, being on the roads is the WORST place to be.

Why?

– Because smoke can make it almost impossible to see where you’re going,

– Because trees can fall across the road, trapping you in your car,

– Because other drivers will be panicking just as much as you, and they can run into you, leaving you both stuck with no shelter.

Or, if you live in a place like Warrandyte, you might find yourself in an almighty traffic jam as every man and his dog tries to cross the bridge over the Yarra at exactly the same time.

If you have ever tried to cross the bridge during peak hour, you will know exactly what I’m talking about. People caught in such a traffic jam would be …in a bad way if the fire came through over the top of them.

So if you are caught unprepared, you are more likely to survive in your house than in your car. In a house, you have a bigger ‘bubble’ around you. In a house, you have multiple points of exit if the house itself begins to burn. In a house, you at least have some chance of getting out in one piece.

But here is where human nature strikes again. Knowing something is not the same as feeling it. You may know that you are safer staying in your house, but will you be able to resist the urge to run? Especially when you know you’ve done nothing, absolutely nothing to make that house less fire prone?

Fear is pernicious, and few of us are immune to it. So if you know you’re not prepared, please don’t wait. Go now. The worst that can happen is that you’ll lose your house, or feel a bit silly when nothing happens. But at least you and the most precious things in your life will still be alive to start again.

stay safe and cool,

Meeks

 

 

 

 


Fire – what it’s really like

Sometimes fate works in unexpected ways! Fire season is almost over again for another year, but the close calls this season prompted me to buy a novel called ‘The Spark’. It’s a fictional story with an incredible ring of authenticity to it because it’s written by a bonafide fire-fighter, John Kenny. Kenny is Canadian, not Australian, but that doesn’t matter because fire respects no boundaries or artificial borders.

“Interesting,” you say with a yawn. “But choosing to read a book about fire is hardly serendipty!”

“Indeed,” I say, with a smirk. “But reading an article by Kenny that describes the reality of fire – the day after finishing his book – is.”

The article in question was written for Indies Unlimited, under the ‘getting it right’ banner. These articles provide writers with much needed information so their descriptions etc ring true. But this authenticity can also be valuable to those of us who have never come face to face with a real fire – in the bush or anywhere else for that matter. Let me give you a sample of what Kenny wrote :

The theatre manager told us we would have to leave if we couldn’t be quiet. A group of fellow firefighters and I were howling with laughter as we watched “Backdraft”. Kurt Russell was dashing through a blazing inferno, coat open, boots rolled down and with no breathing apparatus.

Even the rawest recruit knew that in real life Russell would be dead two steps in.’

I remember that movie, and I think it has coloured how I imagine a blazing fire ever since. However when Kenny continued on to describe the smoke in a real fire, all the news reports about Black Saturday suddenly clunked into place. You see, somehow I hadn’t really believed that a bushfire could turn day into night….

You’ll find the link to the whole of Kenny’s article at the end of this post, and I’d recommend EVERYONE read it, but first I’d like to say a few things about Kenny’s novel.

1. It is not some dry memoir full of facts, with the barest nod to story. It’s not a memoir at all. The Spark is a tight, well told story with a great plot that will keep you reading because you won’t be able to sleep until you know what happens next!

2. The characters in The Spark are not action heroes. They are not cookie cutouts. They are not there just to push the story along. Even the most minor characters have depth and personality while the major ones are people you would love to know in real life. Well, maybe not all of them. Let’s just say the villains of the piece are people who could exist, and probably do, but you really, really wouldn’t want to mess with them.

3. The story is not formulaic. Like life itself, the story depicted in The Spark does not have a perfect ending. But it’s the only ending that fits.

4. Despite being a debut novel, The Spark is beautifully written, with just the right balance between scene setting, action and introspection.

In short, The Spark is one hell of a good book even though it isn’t science fiction. 🙂 Read it people!

And now for that link :

http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2014/03/18/getting-it-right-fire/

cheers

Meeks


Bushfires 2014 – why are they happening?

CAVEAT: Before I begin, I have to say that most of the answers I’ve gleaned are either conjecture, or hearsay. Information I consider to be fact will be labeled as such.

Over the last few years, we’ve all become a lot more aware of what can lead to bushfires – long dry spells/low humidity, fuel load and wind. Yet these factors are sort of passive, like a stick of dynamite. Without a detonator, that dynamite is not going to blow up in your face.

So the next question we need to ask is what are the factors that trigger bushfires?

Dry lightning is one of the most common triggers. We get literally thousands of lightning strikes a year. So did we get lightning strikes when the cool change came through on Sunday, February the 9th?

According to the news media, many of the fires currently raging across Victoria began as lightning strikes a couple of weeks ago. As far as I can tell, however, there were no lightning strikes on Sunday.

So how and why did the new fires start? It appears that 12 of them were started by arsonists.

Now I know that there has been a lot of heat in the media to do ‘something’ about arsonists. What, exactly, I don’t know. I suppose the police could round up all known arsonists before a day of extreme fire danger, but what of the unknown arsonists? Or the kids playing with matches? Or the idiots who flick burning cigarette butts out the windows of the their cars? Yes, the laws can certainly be tightened, and should be, but like lightning strikes, you will never be able to control these deliberate acts of stupidity.

Let me give you an example. I was listening to ABC 774 [the emergency broadcaster] when a listener phoned in about some young tradies in Ringwood. Apparently they were on a building site, and using angle grinders despite the fact that the media has been telling people forever not to use them on a day of total fire ban. The caller told them to stop, but they ignored him. Clearly there is a lot of room for improved fire education. And greater penalties for the willfully stupid.

Yet as devastating as arson and lightning strikes may be, there is another, silent danger most of us never think about – powerlines and transformers. According to the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, set up after the horror of the Black Saturday fires, the Kilmore fire, which turned out to be one of the deadliest on that awful day, was started by faulty electricity infrastructure – i.e. powerlines and distribution feeders.

The commission recommended that the existing infrastructure be phased out, starting in the most fire prone areas. The current state government accepted the recommendations, and there has been some progress in terms of legislation, but five years down the track, very little has physically changed.

And that brings me to my own area, Warrandyte. What I’m about to say is either anecdotal, rumour or conjecture. You decide.

1. Anecdotal : I was on my computer at about midday on Sunday, February 9th when my computer suddenly just reset itself. Small blackouts are ‘normal’ in Warrandyte, but this wasn’t a blackout. Nothing else went out. As a result I thought my pc had just overheated. I switched it off, let it cool down and then switched it back on. The first thing I did was to check the CFA website, and there it was, the little red fire symbol on the other side of the river [south from my location]. What on earth?

To make this anecdote more understandable I should point out that my pc is particularly sensitive to power surges.

2. I was soon too busy getting the pumps going etc to worry about my temperamental pc. The next day, however, I had to go into Warrandyte to do some shopping, and of course the fire was on everyone’s lips. One person said the fire had been caused by a ‘transformer’. I still don’t know exactly what that is but I know it has something to do with the electricity infrastructure.

3. Then I moved on to the bakery. Leo’s was full, with lots of young men in various uniforms buying their lunch. Two of them were wearing the logo of SP AUSNET, one of the largest electricity distributors in Victoria.

4. Later there was new footage of the epicentre of the Warrandyte blaze. One resident said something along the lines of ‘there was a bang and then there was fire’. If you look carefully, you can see one of those huge electricity pylons in the distance.

5. Everyone in Warrandyte is in shock, not because there was a fire, but because it was to the south. Fire always comes from the north. Except that on Sunday, it started in the south, just before a wind change was due that would push it up towards the heart of Warrandyte.

Just to add a bit of perspective, the Warrandyte pub was closed down, something that has never happened in living memory.

So, do any of these bits of information add up to the ‘transformer’ being to blame? I honestly don’t know, but if that electricity infrastructure truly was to blame, then the distributor, and the State Government dodged a great big bullet too.

Why? Because the fire in Warrandyte could have become a raging inferno. The CFA knew it, all the authorities knew it, that’s why so many resources were thrown into the fight. To put it in bald, uncompromising terms, lives could have been lost, and the blame would have rested squarely with the negligence of the state government and the distributor.

Some fires are ‘acts of god’; the Warrandyte fire wasn’t, in my humble opinion. If I’m proved wrong, I will recant with good grace. But if I’m proved right, what will the state government do about it? More words? More legislation? Or will there finally be some action?

Update 12/2/2014 : I just found a very interesting blog post that provides more detail about the Warrandyte fire, and adds some weight to the theory the fire was caused by powerlines or whatever. You can find it here.

-hugs-

Meeks


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