FIRE SUPPRESSION HORROR STORY Canberra fires 2003
Red Eagle promotes the benefits of fire behaviour knowledge to Fire Agencies. Although Fire Agencies focus on suppression, we know they can become much more effective if they include fire behaviour knowledge in their decision making.
Consider this recent real life example:
The experienced Canberra Fire Chief told the camera his strategy: We are going to stop the approaching fire on this firebreak with our tankers and we will then put out the spot fires that jump across.
The footage taken by Channel Nine cameraman during a ride through the fires with A.C.T. Fire Brigade District Officer Darrell Thornthwaite and the crew of Bravo 3 can be seen on YOUTUBE. The footage covers the actual bushfire attack on Duffy residential area. We have identified at least four separate attacks by different fire fronts in this corner of Duffy over a twenty minute period.
IF ONLY …
If only he had asked himself some relevant fire behaviour questions before he formulated his strategy.
1…Managing the flame – Will the firebreak stop the flame?
He could have used fire behaviour knowledge to realise that the running flame will stop at a wide fuel free barrier.
If it will stop the advancing flame, he could have encouraged residents to stay and self defend their own homes. Why would government order evacuation from a bushfire-protected area?
2…Managing the embers – What spot fire intensity and ember throw distance is expected?
How many houses does he expect to be under attack today?
How many troops will he need to save all the houses under attack?
How many troops and tankers does he have and what is their capacity?
How many residents need to remain to self-defend and share the load?
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS?
The flame is 20m tall in the pine plantation. It does not stop at the firebreak, it runs across with a flame height of less than 50cm. It stops at the 10m wide road without any assistance from tankers. It stops by itself. The fire agencies do not know this.
There is no running flame in the residential area. The only flames are stationary flames.
Heavy ember attack occurs across the firebreak into the residential area.
People had been evacuated, which means that few residents remain to extinguish spot fires in their properties.
The bushfire attack destroys scores of homes simultaneously within that suburb, not by the bushfire’s flame, but by embers falling on vacated properties.
The fire chief and his small team of fire fighters are overwhelmed and helpless by the multiple simultaneous house ignitions. They can do nothing but watch them burn, two hundred within an hour or so. It is heart wrenching for them. Saving houses is their bread and butter.
The residents were horrified when they returned.