Monday, February 9, 2009

Firey Australia

Melted metal of alloy wheels.

"Australian bushfire toll rises to 171"


Simone Giuliani

February 9th, 2009



Weary firefighters and rescuers pulled the remains of dozens of people from charred buildings on Monday as the toll from Australia's deadliest bushfires rose to 171, police said.

"Everybody's gone. Everybody's gone. Everybody. Their houses are gone. They're all dead in the houses there. Everybody's dead," cried survivor Christopher Harvey as he walked through the town of Kinglake, where most people were killed.

A Victoria state police spokesman told Reuters by telephone late on Monday the toll had risen to 171 from about 135 hours earlier. He said the toll would almost certainly rise further.

Police believe some of the fires, which razed rural towns near the country's second biggest city, Melbourne, were deliberately lit and declared one devastated town a crime scene.

"There are no words to describe it other than mass murder," Prime Minister Kevin Rudd earlier told local television. "These numbers (of dead) are numbing."

The bushfires are the country's worst natural disaster in more than a century, and will put pressure on Rudd to deliver a broad new climate policy.

One massive bushfire tore through several towns in the southern state of Victoria on Saturday night, destroying everything in its path. Many people died in cars trying to flee and others were killed huddled in their homes, yet some escaped by jumping into swimming pools or farm reservoirs.

The inferno was as tall as a four-storey building at one stage and was sparking spot fires 40 km (25 miles) ahead of itself as the strong winds blew hot embers in its path.

"It's going to look like Hiroshima, I tell you. It's going to look like a nuclear bomb. There are animals dead all over the road," said Harvey.

More than 750 houses were destroyed and some 78 people, with serious burns and injuries, are in hospital.

Many patients had burns to more than 30 percent of their bodies and some injuries were worse than the Bali bombings in 2002, said one doctor at a hospital emergency department.

In Canberra, lawmakers fought back tears as they suspended parliament for the day after expressing condolences to the victims on behalf of the stunned nation.

"It is the beauty and the wonder of our country," National Party leader Warren Truss said. "It can also be harsh and cruel. How can these idyllic landscapes also become killing fields?"


Wildfires are a natural annual event in Australia, but this year a combination of scorching weather, drought and tinder-dry bush has created prime conditions.

The fires, and major floods in Queensland state in the north, will put pressure on Rudd, who is due to deliver a new climate policy in May. Green politicians are citing the extreme weather to back a tougher climate policy.

Adding to the nation's grief, authorities in northern Queensland searched unsuccessfully for a five-year-old boy who they believe was killed by a crocodile when he chased his pet dog into the flooded Daintree River.

Scientists say Australia, with its harsh environment, is set to be one of the nations most affected by climate change.

"Continued increases in greenhouse gases will lead to further warming and drier conditions in southern Australia, so the (fire) risks are likely to slightly worsen," said Kevin Hennessy at the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Center (CSIRO).

The Victorian bushfire tragedy is the worst natural disaster in Australia in 110 years. In 1899, Cyclone Mahina struck Australia's northern Cape York, killing more than 400.


Thousands of firefighters continued to battle the main fires and scores of other blazes across Victoria on Monday, as well as fires in neighboring New South Wales state.

While cooler, calmer conditions helped firefighters, 10 major fires remained out of control in Victoria. But the week-long heatwave that triggered the inferno was over.

The fires burned out more than 330,000 ha (815,000 acres) of mostly bushland in Victoria, but a number of vineyards in the Yarra Valley were also destroyed. The Insurance Council of Australia said it was too early to estimate the bill.

The small town of Marysville was sealed off by police as forensic scientists searched through the rubble for evidence.

As dawn broke in the town of Whittlesea, near Kinglake, shocked residents wandered the streets, some crying, searching for loved ones still missing.

"The last anyone saw of them, the kids were running in the house, they were blocked in the house," cried Sam Gents, who had not heard from his wife Tina and three children, aged 6, 13 and 15, since the fire swept through Kinglake.

"If they let me up the mountain I know where to go (to try and find them)," Gents sobbed. Police sealed off Kinglake, where at least 35 died, because bodies were still being recovered.

Handwritten notes pinned to a board in the Whittlesea evacuation center told the same sad story, with desperate pleas from people for missing family and friends to contact them.

Rudd said it would take years to rebuild the devastated towns and has announced a A$10 million ($6.8 million) aid package. He has also called in the army to help erect emergency shelter.

The previous worst bushfire tragedy in Australia was in 1983, when 75 people were killed.

I found this same topic in my archives [October 19th, 2003] and thought it should be revived since Australia is experiencing a catastrophic fire and some solutions should be offered. [This particular fire appears to have been deliberately set.] The topic was posted by member "Savant" of Melbourne, Australia...


I am from Australia and there are many bush fires ranging across the country. We have firefighters with hoses and also helicopters making water dumps. They fight a losing battle while there are still high temperatures and winds. I think another means of extinguishing the fires is needed.

I suggest something of a special 'foam' type. Drop a box of this into the fire centre and as it gets hot, it expands thus eliminating oxygen for the fire to burn. This is just pure thought and no research. Anyone else have any thoughts on extinguishing fires?


Yes do have a real problem and it is important that you have correctly termed your plight. Technically, fires under six feet are referred to as "brush" fires while anything over six feet is referred to as "forest" fires. In the states the forest fires are more common since we have more trees and if you have ever seen a conifer literally explode [from the turpentine] you can appreciate the powerful nature of a forest fire. I am sure burning dry brush is equally spectacular. Indeed, water, retarding chemicals, and fire breaks are the common means of controlling natural fires. But your idea of cutting the oxygen supply is interesting. It immediately brought to mind the 1954 film Godzilla. After a lengthy perfunctory destruction of Tokyo and many conventional means of thwarting the critter, Godzilla was finally corralled at sea and quickly subjected to some unique tablets that were supposed to destroy the reptile by pulling the oxygen out of the water thereby rendering Godzilla inert and hopefully stabilized in a non-hostile posture--if not dead. The point being, a chemical was employed that made Godzilla's environment less rich in oxygen. The use of such an idea for fighting brush and/or forest fires is most interesting and as usual fraught with supplemental problems. The chemistry of such a compound would be very complex. The compound would have to consume oxygen [in sufficient quantities] to fulfill its purpose or retarding, if not, totally extinguishing the fire, diminishing the volatile status of the material being consumed, not producing a bigger hazard than the original one, economical in production, safe in deployment, and be environmentally safe. Granted there are fire retardants being used, but one that actually sucks the oxygen from the problem area--I just don't know. I hope some other members have more information on this concept. Probably an old adage would be appropriate here: "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Namely, brush and forest management to minimize the potential of fires would be employed.

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