Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why don’t they....

Many people wonder why there were so many people killed in the terrible fires of February 2009. There are things to remember if you find yourself facing a bushfire. Saving your house is very hard work, and you may not be able to save it. Is it worth your life?

Please read this account of a family who nearly perished. They were well prepared for the fire, with a pump for water, hoses, buckets of water around the yard to save the house. They stayed. This is their story.

There are reasons why they don’t. Here are a few:

• Why don’t they get helicopters to evacuate people from the fires?
Convection currents in the air caused by the fire create very strong up and down drafts and it’s not uncommon for huge gusts of wind to be generated by the fires. When flying over/around fires or dumping water on them pilots must stay a certain distance away and keep a very wary eye on where the smoke and flames are going.

• Why don’t they evacuate?
If there is danger people are directed to evacuate, usually with plenty of time to get out and stay away until the fire has passed. Sometimes fires are too fast and there is no time for evacuation as people would be trapped on smoky roads and we can see from the latest conflagration the danger in smoke blinded driving.

• Why don’t they get the Army in to evacuate people?
It is not the job of the Army to evacuate people. The logistics would be impossible. Usually evacuation is a few hours before the fire comes – or much sooner, when it’s safe to be on the roads, with no escape routes barred. Calling in the Army to evacuate people would just clog up the roads, and they couldn’t be where they were needed in good time. This is why people are encouraged to pack up their family, their precious possessions, their pets, and leave in their own vehicles.

• Why don’t they get the Army in to fight the fires, to save the houses?
It’s not the job of the Army to fight fires and save houses, they are not trained for it. They can only help in the clean up later, or with provision of accommodation/tents, food, etc., note that the Army cannot mobilise quickly enough to be available to fight fires.

• The trees aren’t burnt, there wasn’t a fire storm, those houses could have been saved!
Have you actually been in a bushfire? You can’t breathe for the smoke. You can’t see for the smoke and the tears running out of your eyes. Your nose runs. You feel like your lungs are going to burst because you can’t get air. And this isn’t breathing the superheated air which can kill you. This is just smoke. Please read the article above and concentrate on the part about the ember storm.

Unnecessarily entering a bushfire area endangers lives, roads need to be kept free for emergency vehicles and firefighters – the main aim of any volunteers is saving lives, fighting the fires, and saving homes which can be saved – some homes cannot be saved.

In a bushfire people who die usually succumb to the radiated heat from the fire.
Radiant heat kills. Superheated air kills.

Remember when you hear the stories of miraculous escapes that there are 181 stories you will not hear except from the coroner.

Faces of those no longer with us. SMH.

Apart from ensuring that the fuel in the bushland is burnt off and that there is no flammable material near your home all measures must be taken to ensure that this loss of life never happens again.

I read a suggestion (Andrew Bolt's blog) yesterday for a notification similar to the one used to alert people to IRA bombs, apparently it’s based on mobile phone towers and each tower will send messages to every phone in a certain area. This may prove to be a viable bushfire safety measure. However, we must remember that the latest tragic fires travelled very fast over kilometres and there wasn’t much warning, and that no system will be foolproof and we mustn’t be complacent.

I suggest along with a warning system that there be a stipulation. If you want to stay and fight to save your house you must have a fire bunker in place, constructed, inspected and approved by the council which must comply with regulations set down by an authority which knows what is required to protect people in fires. These inspections should not incur cost to the constructor of the bunker. I would sincerely hope that the bunkers would never need to be used.

SMH fire photo gallery.


Anonymous said...

Kae. One chap in Vic with experience in this area said that other countries that suffer big fires regularly use a specific form of water dispensing aircraft that is far more effective than the helicopters we have in Australia. He said that nit picking, egos and politics by those who made the decision to choose the helicopters inhibit our ability to purchase these planes.

He said these planes would have contributed to a lesser mortality rate in the Vic fires. Mehaul.

stackja1945 said...

We were advised:
Friday, April 18, 2008
The strategy aims to position Victoria’s bushfire management agencies to effectively manage risk in partnership with the community with actions under six themes:

* Managing the land with fire – An increase in fuel reduction burning based on good science and sound ecological principles.

* Building community capacity to live with fire – Improve community understanding of the role of fire and increase shared responsibility for prevention and preparedness for bushfire.

* Enhanced response and recovery – Continue to lead the way in fire response while building on our recovery efforts.

* Workforce capability – Build and maintain a skilled, fit and experienced firefighting force to do the job.

* Planning for protection – Provide community and planners with better risk management and mitigation tools.

* Risk and adaptive management – Develop a more responsive approach to bushfire management based on continuous learning and improvement.

Skeeter said...

There has been much on the media suggesting mass evacuations and even forced evacuations. Such schemes present many problems, including:
* Fires change direction, speed and intensity unpredictably. Huge areas around even one fire will need to be evacuated, probably the day before the fire gets really bad. In the Vic fires, total evacuation of the threatened area would be a logistic nightmare.
* Safe evacuation routes would need to be chosen in mountainous forest with few roads available.
Safe destinations (with accomodation facilities, and outside the threatened areas) would need to be provided for all evacuees.
* Most of the threatened homes are isolated and remote, many without good communications services.

Voluntary self-evacuation is the only thing that will work.
I have had some experience in protecting my home from fire in a suburban (not isolated) situation. While Mrs Skeeter packed two cars, I spent three hours on the roof in dense smoke, filling the gutters with a hose and watching the flames get closer. When the flames appeared in a neighbour's yard and there was no fire-engine in sight, we headed for the beach.
I vowed then that I would, in future, evacuate the day before the fire.

Skeeter said... must have a fire bunker in place, constructed, inspected and approved by the council which must comply with regulations set down by an authority which knows what is required to protect people in fires.
Jeez, Kae, the last thing we need in this country is more council regulations and inspectors. I'm with Lang Hancock on this one. He urged that the legislators, before enacting a new law, should be forced to repeal ten old laws until we get it back to a reasonable number.
Why not let Darwinism get back on the job of improving the gene pool?

Boy on a bike said...

It's alright for people who live in suburbia, where there are roads galore leading in all directions, to ask "Why did they not evacuate?"

Anyone who has ever visited some of these rural and remote areas would immediately notice a few things:

- very rugged topography, making cross country travel near impossible, which would only be a very last resort, due to the slow speed of cross country travel in unfamiliar terrain and smoke. Plus the bush is often too thick for bush bashing.

- topography also usually means two ways out of town - up the road or down the road.

- topography also causes roads to loop and meander, which cuts the speed at which you can escape dramatically

All of the above result in some areas being cut off very easily, and evacuating down a "safe" road may in fact take you straight (or curving) into another fire, with no means of escaping up a side road.

If you can't get out early, you can only stay and fight.

kae said...

Sorry, Skeeter, but it'd have to be inspected to be sure it complied with regulations - too many people have cooked in water tanks above the fires!
Of course, there'd be no charges for these...
I don't think the proponents of the bunker idea realise how much it would cost.
Also, you won't need oxygen in a bunker, there's plenty of air, you just can't breathe for a few seconds when the fire passes over you and you're out in it... that's just a crown fire.

Word Ver: sumstab

Oh, and about your Darwinism comment - it's not PC but....

kae said...

Boy, exactly, and an influx of army vehicles or an out run of locals will clog the roads...
and that's why you pack your car and piss off before the fire is upon you!
As I said, your stuff is not worth your life!

kae said...

Stacks, thanks for your input, too.
So many people ask these questions and don't get the answers as to why these things can't/won't/aren't done.

Although mine was about things like, oh, seeding clouds to make it rain on the bushfire (won't work, probably because there's little or no moisture in the air, but I don't know for sure).

I wouldn't call the CFS inexperienced.

Too many people expect their house to be saved by the CFA - but they just don't have the manpower.
If people decide to stay and try to save their house they must be prepared, not relying on town water - with all the people drawing from town water there will be low pressure... People need to be educated about bushfires and what they're up against. The problem with bushfires is that they are unpredictable and noone can know for sure how bad they'll be - although the lack of burning off certainly didn't help.

A demographer was talking on the radio the day before yesterday and he was explaining why this kind of disaster didn't happen in Brisbane and Sydney's satellite towns and suburbs. He explained that it was the number of people who lived on the outskirts of suburbia (Melbourne's outskirts are quite crowded), and also that the weather/climate is different in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. In Brisbane the fire danger period is from August until October/November. Brisbane doesn't get the hot, desert winds that Melbourne does. Many reasons, these are just two.

kae said...

Good grief, that reply to Stacks was all over the place!
How are you, Stacks?

Caz said...

Bunkers were recommended and required after the 1926 fires (or thereabouts), which is why more people were not killed on Black Thursday (? 1939 ?).

Seems that we have to keep learning the same lessons over and over again.

I've only read of one incident of a woman, elderly, hiding - her least resort as the fire descended - under some floor boards at the back of her house. Not a bunker. Just loose boards with enough space for her to crawl into. She lived. She was still under the floor boards many hours later when her sons arrived in expectation of finding her body. Her house was totally destroyed, she was alive under the remnants.

Anon - very often people spruik solutions as they have a vested business interest. Australia has the best fire experts in the world, and the best fire fighters. If our local experts believed that water dispensing aircraft were the answer, at the very least they would lobby pollies / the public for massive funding. Don't assume for one second that they aren't aware of the option or that they haven't evaluated the option. (BTW - there's a simple, singular and wrong solution to everything.)

Skeeter said...

A few days ago there was news footage of some blokes who had stayed to fight and wound up in a good bunker that saved them. There was another story saying that the steel door to a bunker was glowing red hot, but the people inside the bunker survived.

In the unlikely event that I was forced to live in the appalling climate of rural Victoria, I would be building a really good underground wine cellar that could double as a fire bunker. But I don't want some newly-graduated council bureaucrat telling me how to build it.

kae said...

But Skeets, you're thinking that everyone who'd be building a bunker is as savvy as you.

That's just not so - that's why there needs to be some kind of quality control. You do realise that there'd be some idiots building them above ground.
Made of wood.

Perhaps better to get guidance from an experienced CFA expert?

Caz said...

Skeet - a multi-functional wine cellar, I like that idea.

All other aspects of buildings require the relevant approvals, so I don't especially see why "approved" bunkers would be any more bothersome than getting a pergola approved.

Where it becomes icky is if the gov't spent 5 years deciding on appropriate standards & options. Or the other end of the spectrum, if people dug holes, threw in a bookshelf and a bottle of water and thought that should do the trick in a pinch.

kae said...

Hi Caz
Skeeter's had a bit of experience with an, um, inept council shovelling money out of his pockets and other stuff.
I think it's safe to say he's got an, how should I put this, an aversion to local government.

Minicapt said...

"If our local experts believed that water dispensing aircraft were the answer, at the very least they would lobby pollies / the public for massive funding."

It would be interesting to hear the reasons for not using water bombers.


kae said...

Hi Mini
The reason we don't use the big water bombing planes is that we don't have the large bodies of water like Canada for them to refill on.

PS I will put those vids up, just couln't watch them at home last night... slow connection!

Caz said...

Kae - we don't need to tell anyone about Skeet's wine cellar, we can keep that amongst ourselves.

The premier today has gone further though, more intrusive on the re-build: he wants "fireproof" houses. I imagine that's going to be more expensive and take longer than bunkers.

Mini - the nice pics didn't provide any evidence for why this would be a suitable solution in Victoria.

Kae raises a very valid reason why the water bombers would be a failure & waste of money here. For more reasons you could just write to the department (sustainability & environment), or the CFA, I'm sure they'd provide you with all of the reasons why this isn't a solution for us.

kae said...

Hi Caz
Karl Knuckleheadnichski was just on the radio and someone asked him why we don't legislate to have fireproof houses.
He sensibly explained that although you make the shell of the house fireproof (concrete, etc), you still need the nice things inside to make it liveable, like furniture, paint, etc.
He talked about the motel where the fireworks caught fire, and how the building was concrete, but it still burnt.
Houses burn because of the embers, they can get into all sorts of close spaces, many houses have fire in the roof even when people are sheltering inside and once the fire takes hold it's like burning tinder - you can't stop it. No one thinks about a house standing for years and years, drying out...
Also, in many fires there is superheated air ahead of the fire and sometimes that's all fire needs to flare up. Nothing can stop that.

kae said...

Breaking news: Two arsonists arrested.

kae said...

Sky news
two arsonists arrested.

Caz said...

"John Munday, a 20-year firefighter and a CFA lieutenant at Acheron, north of Marysville, sheltered helplessly with his crew as the famous town burned. "If we'd had 500 Elvises and 1000 tankers there it would not have made any difference, it was that extreme."

Water bombers would have been like a dripping tap: useless.

Skeeter said...

I suggest that, before any legislation is passed to make fireproof houses compulsory, they do a really accurate in-depth study on building costs, environmental impact and carbon tax for such a building. Then they should work out the costs again.
The existing council greenie regulations are already adding $20,000 to the building costs of the average house. Those building costs are on top of the greenie costs added to the DA conditions for the development of the land for the house site. Most home buyers have no idea of how much of their purchase price has gone into the pockets of the greenie industry.
Two examples from bitter experience:
$55,000 to remove two power poles and bury 88 metres of Energex infrastructure along my street frontage.
$12,000 for an environmental impact study on 110 metres of river bank. This cost included the services of a scientist who was going to spend three nights on the river bank trapping innocent small furry animals so she would know whether there were any threatened species down there after 130 years of human habitation on the land.
tw: atimboad At 'im, boy on a dog.

kae said...

They're really going to have their work cut out for them with fireproof homes - sure, they won't burn, but there'll be no furnishings in them... and they'll be like ovens in the summer and freezers in the winter (which is every other day in Victoria!).

A cost-benefit analysis will probably put the kybosh on it, noone will be able to afford to build in the bush, except people who only have the homes as 'weekenders', and wouldn't be there during fire time anyway...
WV: amentier
yeah, and amen ter yer, too!

Caz said...

Estimate in today's paper said it would add $20K to building a house, which is damned cheap.

No, no, seriously!

They can fireproof an entire house for a mere $20K?

Come on, if it was that cheap and that easy many of the wealthier tree-changers would have already done it.

$20K to fireproof a house?


$20K for building an illusion of safety, setting people up for future danger?

Yeah, I think so.

Yet again the gov't latches onto the first thing that pops into its head without doing any logical analysis.

Why bother with millions on a royal commission if the gov't has already decided on a solution?

Politics at its worst.

kae said...

$20k and your life is a lot to pay for a false sense of security.

Caz said...

That would be my thought Kae.

You could buy a good fast car for $20K, or a very comfy bunker with all mod-cons.

kae said...

Hmm. Hunker in a bunker!
I like it.

Skeeter's bunker, complete (or is that replete) with wine.

Red, of course!