02/10/2009 95 °F
Earlier last weekend, I mentioned to Dawn that I smelled something burning. I thought maybe one of the transformers had finally caved in to the 240V outlet or that the motor on the fan was burning out. After turning off the fan, the smell lessened significantly, so I figured we had found the source. My sister emails me yesterday to ask if I'm safe from all the wildfires. Wildfires? Without having access to TV and an internet connection that makes me yearn for a 14.4k dialup modem, I am not entirely up to speed on current events. Australia is in the midst of the worst bushfire in history, and it was close enough that I could smell it through the window next to my desk.
The conditions have been ripe for a fire. Melbourne and Adelaide went through a week of temperatures staying above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, reaching over 115 during the day. Australia is also in the midst of a drought, leaving heaps of dry brush waiting to spark or feed a fire. This past weekend, temperatures were forecast to be 100-110 again with high winds expected in some areas. It was brutally hot, and while I was at the beach, fires were blazing to the south. Lightning may have started the fires, but signs point to a cigarette starting one of the blazes and intentional arson starting other blazes in both Victoria and New South Wales (which is the state I live in).
Bushfires are common, if not expected in Australia. Every year fires clear out brush in the forests. I showed pictures from our trip to the Grampians in Victoria of scorched trees in one of the national parks from 2 years ago. The eucalypts encourage fire, dropping dry bark for tinder and producing oil on their leaves to feed the fire which helps expand their forests. Other plants adapted fireproof seeds and regenerate growth quickly after being burned. Still, other animals have gone extinct because of habitat that has been destroyed by fire.
So far the fire has burned 815,000 acres of land (larger than Yosemite National Park) and over 170 people have lost their lives, both numbers expected to continue to climb in the coming days (The Ash Wednesday Fires in 1983, until recently considered the worst bush fire in history, claimed 75 lives). Entire towns have burned. Firefighters calculate a fire index based on a number of factors. An index of 100 means the fire is uncontrollable, the current bushfire has an index of 400, 4 times the index for an uncontrollable fire! Right now fires are going uncontrolled, but thousands of firefighters and national troops are ready to protect citizens as the fire turns to inhabited areas. I have created a rough map that shows where the fires are currently burning (red) and areas that currently undergoing fire control (orange). This doesn't indicate places already burned by the fire, just areas currently affected.
You can see that the fire is centered in Victoria and most of the fire protection is around Melbourne. Millions of dollars have been donated to the Red Cross for relief efforts.
For those worried about our safety, the fires seem to be pretty far from Sydney. It rained throughout the night, and rain is forecast through Friday. However, if a fire does come through Sydney, I'm more likely to be able to tell by seeing the smoke and flames rather than be official warning via TV or radio (unless my sister's emails count as official).