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Australian Wildfire Update

Australian Fires - Bert Candusio

Australian Fires - Bert Candusio

As Nancy reported on February 8th, the wild fires in Australia were not only serious, but out-of-control. While we had a look at satellite imagery, there’s nothing scarier than having it hit close to home and friends… Our friends at Southern Galactic.

As our Universe Today readers well know, our friends “down under” at Southern Galactic imaging are always on top the astronomy game, offering us up exclusive views of astronomy events not found any where else. Like the fire situation which raged in California last year, I watched remotely – curious as to how close it was getting to the observatories, but not knowing from a distance. I sat here in subzero weather watching the snow come down, while half a world away things were far, far different…

I had wondered why things were quiet. Skype was down and I wasn’t seeing a image on the remote scopes. My usual welcome “chat” with Bert was curiously absent, but the reality of what was going on didn’t sink in until now. I was complaining about plowing snow – but I should have been praying for my friends safety. When communications were re-established with Southerngalactic Site 1 telescope hosting facility this morning, Bert Candusio, the Observatory Director, told me about the wicked events which occurred on Saturday, February 7th… the day Victoria suffered under 47 degree Celsius heat with fires that tore through the state.

“We were awoken with radio warnings that a series of fires had taken hold and were running out of control. One fire in particular had caused us concern around 2:00 PM when the areas of Cobaw, Baynton and Pastoria were placed on alert that the fire had travelled 25 kilometers from the Northwest and was now headed towards the southeast in our direction.

Fires Approach Observatory - Bert Candusio

Fires Approach Observatory - Bert Candusio

Within 2 hours, pillars of thick black smoke were seen to rise high in the air and began billowing to our northern horizon. We implemented our fire plan whereby all power and equipment were closed off after alerting our resident astronomers of the potential danger. With power supplies closed to the main observatory building, pumps were readied along with hoses, buckets of water as we had decided that the open grassed aspect of the property placed it with a good chance of surviving as long as we were able to mop up after the fire front had passed.

Australian Wildfire - Bert Candusio

Australian Wildfire - Bert Candusio

By 5:00 pm, the smoke has thickened to the point where it was actually creating its own weather systems at a local level, with thunder able to be heard high overhead such was the extent of the rising pillars above.

As we were gearing up for what could have been the worst, a sudden southerly wind change from the south began to drive the fire front to the north east and away from the site we were ready to defend. We were fortunate. Others were not.”

With the terrible conflagration passing within 8 kilometers of the Southern Galactic Telescope Hosting Facility, eating ash and breathing smoke clings to Candusio like the remnants of a horrible nightmare. Not only was his life’s work and investment sitting in the line of fire – but his home and loved ones as well. Only hours later, the fire which threatened the facility moved to the Hopetown area further north and is still out of control and the entire northeast and south section of Victoria still remains in danger. At the time of this writing, twelve separate fires continue to threaten lives, homes and property.

To Candusio, February 7 will live forever in his memory, but not as a good one. “To the surviving victims of that day’s terrible events, we extend our hearts and our deepest sympathies to them, their families and for their loved ones that have been lost.”

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Nephish777 February 9, 2009, 11:11 AM

    Today’s newspaper here in Akron Ohio USA says at 128 have died and there are areas not yet searched. 47 degrees Celsius is 117 degrees Fahrenheit! They need all the help and prayer they can get!

  • Nephish777 February 9, 2009, 11:12 AM

    correction: …at least 128 have died…

  • Salacious B. Crumb February 9, 2009, 11:47 AM

    Tammy. Bushfires are slightly different than wildfires that you know in the western US. Generally the fuel source for the fire is eucalyptus, which is a flammable oil. Bushfires have been traditionally occurrence in summer in Australia, being part of the natural cycle in how the ‘bush” (vegetation) regenerates. Eucalyptus trees, in fact, need to germinate from these fires.
    Management of forests are maintained throughout the year by local community fire authorities, in Victoria by the Country Fire Authority (CFA). Such groups often make by so-called backburns during the winter months, and this reduces the fuel for bushfires in summer – when the risk of course is much greater. Were it not for these brave and dedicated men and woman, who fight and protect life and property, catastrophes like what has happened in Victoria would be more frequent and much more deadly.
    U.S. media also wrongly describes the a “brush” fires, which normally is associated with the undergrowth and leaf litter.

    With fires associated with observatories in Australia, the biggest one was on 18th January 2003. This destroyed the Mt. Stromlo Observatory complex in Canberra (the capital of Australia), about 200km (124 mles) SSW of Sydney. While the loss of property at the observatory was astounding, by no observatory staff was killed or injured. However, four people lost their lives in southern Canberra.

  • dollhopf February 9, 2009, 11:48 AM

    To catch a glimpse from the end of the world.

    It is disturbing and sadden! We know it all that one day it must happen somehow! Everyone of us has a rendevouz someday!

    Either alone and unwatched or in the focus of the percipient world. But even while we others perceived … too late for those who are at the mercy of void!

  • Salacious B. Crumb February 9, 2009, 11:50 AM

    At the time of writing, the toll is now 166 to 168, and is still likely to rise. More heartbreaking news is likely in the coming days.

  • frankuitaalst February 9, 2009, 1:25 PM

    Sad , really sad .
    My estomac turns over when I hear some of these fires are intentionally …human made .
    So it is told in Europe . The news seems to be confirmed by the officials down under …
    What’s the news saying in other parts of the world ?

  • Tammy Plotner February 9, 2009, 1:53 PM

    thanks for correcting me, Salacious… i kinda’ considered the fact that these fires may have been the work of arsonists to make them a bit on the “wild” side. again, we have a slightly different way of phrasing things – but the result is the same, awful thing.

    i was in southern CA just a few months after the fires there… and it touched me deeply when i visited palomar and saw how truly close it got. it wasn’t so much because it endangered the historic observatory, but because i saw for the first time in my life what the results of this type of fire had done. the devastation was utter… total… complete. i knew from being raised as a fireman’s daughter that fire was a monster – but the impact on that kind of scale never hit home until i could see with my own eyes what happens.

    my heart goes out to all of these people…

  • robbi February 9, 2009, 2:56 PM

    Salacious B. Crumb-In the Oakland hills about 10 miles east of San Francisco, and ranging from 1000-1700 feet above sea level, thousands of Eucalyptus trees were planted about the turn of the 20th century as it was thought the quality of the trees were going to be as good as the old-growth trees endemic to Australia-it did not work out that way-but they were pleasing to look at and pleasant to smell. I knew about this area well as I was born and raised in San Francisco-the Oakland hills by the 60’s70s 80’s filled up with home, with trees and vegetation so thick you could not see your neighbor next door or across the street-and the streets were narrow,more suitable when there was far less homes there in the 1920s. Most of the residents living on the Oakland Hills did not realize Eucalyptus trees were based on the same concept of the Chaparral brush endemic to Californias’ Mediterranean climate, oily to survived many months of complete drought. Some in the Oakland Hills knew about the oils in Eucalyptus, but because San Francicso is incredibly cool and moist in Summer and has no equal in other Mediterranenean climates except for a small patch of Chiles’ coastline, and since Oakland is wide open to the Golden Gate cool/cold moist breeze, no one in the Oakland hill was worried, it averaged about 500k US dollars in 1991 for a cottage size 1000 Sq foot home there, but there was many 5k ->10k sq foot homes also there. In Oct 1991, a small brush fire started by accident by electrical crews fixing lines a few miles was thought controlled but flared up again a few hours later ,then the rare winds from the east, a usual heat wave event that happens a few times annually summer to early fall- was more powerful than normal then reached 50-60mph,same concept as the Southern California ‘SantaAna’ winds-the Oakland Hills fire got out of conrol, the early news events placed total home destroyed/damaged as perhaps a few hundred, however, when the fires were contained then controlled, in a 1 and a half square mile area, there was about 3000 homes and a few hundred condo units destroyed with 26 killed and 1.5 billion US dollars damage.It shocked officials at first as they did not realize there was so many homes as the trees and brush were so thick, the density of homes was not at first realized. When the smoke cleared, most of the burnt-out home-owners did not realized they always had a ‘million dollar views’ of the sight toward San Francisco, Golden Gate and Hills but blocked by trees. It was unusual that after planning and eventually re-building started, the property , however small a plot of land, was worth more or much more than the home destroyed due to the views!!! Needless to say, planting of Eucalyptus trees is banned
    and the residents were adviced to control the endemic Chaparral brush on their property.
    I understand the major cause of the fires and misery was arson-these arsonist, I do have my moments what I would do with these people and they are not feasible or pleasant to post here, but , you have the idea.

  • robbi February 9, 2009, 3:07 PM

    Addendum to my Oakland Hills file post, it was to suppose to read ‘major cause of the fires and misery in SE Australia was arson-etc……

  • Astrofiend February 9, 2009, 3:27 PM

    Death toll is currently at 173 and expected to rise still a great deal further…

  • Yael Dragwyla February 10, 2009, 2:49 AM

    There have been reports that some of these fires have been set by terrorists: http://www.theage.com.au/national/islam-group-urges-forest-fire-jihad-20080906-4b53.html?page=-1 Bushfires may be natural most of the time, but we live in a dangerous time, when deranged people may decide to alter the natural cycles to fit their own agendas. Or, any cases of arson may be at the hands of the sort of individuals who simply get a large charge out of setting big, dangerous fires, and no other reason. Either way, if there are arsonists setting these fires, may they be caught soon. Last I saw, the official death toll from the fires is now over 161 and climbing swiftly as investigators enter the burned-over areas and check for bodies. Between the human death toll, the devastation of wildlife, the destruction of property, the loss of homes, and the deaths of livestock and pets, this is an unspeakable tragedy. God help Australia — those are good people there, who don’t deserve this!

  • aust resident February 10, 2009, 1:29 AM

    i live in outer melb and its awful
    theyre now saying the death toll could hit 300, theyre having to construct temporary morgues.
    entire towns have been wiped out
    the cfa, mfb and dse (fire fighters) have been heroes in every sense of the word
    some people only had 3mins to get out of theire homes, and some were killed as they fled in their cars.
    yes, bush fire is part of living in aust, but for the most part you can plan for it. these fires were like nothing anyone had ever seen before, they travel at 100km/hr and were spotting (breakaway fires caused by embers) 20km ahead.
    the fires were so wide spread and so intense, you cant even fight them, they just try and protect assets and people and let the rest burn.
    i had family and friends volunteer firefighting, and we pray for their safe return
    id also like to say how amazing the community response has been. the red cross had so many people try to give blood they were turning people away and asking them to come back in a few weeks
    refugee centres only had to say they needed personal items and 10mins later theyd be turning people away because they had to much
    supermarkets are donating all theyre profits
    everyday people are organising clothes drives, its amazing, and makes me proud to be australian

  • gudenboink February 10, 2009, 2:46 PM

    Australian bush fires are in a completely different class of natural fires due to the eucalyptus trees and generate their own weather ect, truly nasty.

    I hope they catch the a-holes that started the un-natural fires and hang them – literally!!

  • Kootstar February 10, 2009, 10:03 PM

    I live in the evergreen forests of the N.W., USA. These trees have an oily, sticky sap called “pitch”. Pitch sticks are good for helping to start a campfire or get it going hotter faster, but they are dangerous if used incorrectly and are simply a natural part of the trees in our forests. For all this I know the hot wildfires and self-initiated wind and spot fires and clouds and curtains of smoke and debris put out by them. Every summer we simply wonder “where”, not “if”, the fires will hit this year. Most are caused by lightening, but a good many by human ignorance or malice. I do understand, and my best to all there!

  • Ared Maily February 11, 2009, 9:14 PM

    2/11/09

    To all Principals

    Government officials have been alerted to a nuance of staggerig character able to,rapidy diminish wild fires in a novel -though non-conventional but hghly advanced- manner requiring no usages of fire fighting equipmenttn or chemcials yet effective over a wide range even in wildlands. Other world officials have also befun to be apprised of this enthralling Providence. If you wish further details contact multiservices@att.net

  • Ared Maily February 11, 2009, 9:21 PM

    2/11/09

    To all Principals

    Government officials have been alerted to a nuance of staggerig character able to,rapidy diminish wild fires in a novel -though non-conventional but hghly advanced- manner requiring no usages of fire fighting equipment or chemcials yet effective over a wide range even in wildlands. Other world officials have also befun to be apprised of this enthralling Providence. If you wish further details contact multiservices@att.net
    916 -978-4015 {24/7 voice Mail]

    Earnestly,

    A.M, Intercedence Advocate

    ================
    2/11/09

    To all Principals

    Government officials have been alerted to a nuance of staggerig character able to,rapidy diminish wild fires in a novel -though non-conventional but hghly advanced- manner requiring no usages of fire fighting equipmenttn or chemcials yet effective over a wide range even in wildlands. Other world officials have also befun to be apprised of this enthralling Providence. If you wish further details contact multiservices@att.net

  • Candy February 22, 2009, 7:41 AM

    I have a friend who lives in Victoria Australia and can not contact her. I need to know if there is a list of the victims names.

  • Mike March 15, 2009, 10:31 AM

    I’m actually very interested in looking for a rebuild team here in the states (I’m in central NC). I’ve talked about the travesty of these brushfires for weeks now and have just started looking into them a little deeper. Not really sure if there is anything I can do to help, but i would love to fly over and lend a hand. I’m not really sure where i’m going to go now that i’m out of high school and have had the same dead end job for 4 years. no money for school. no ambition. yeah.. so if i don’t take this oppurtunity to inquire.. i know it will just be an oppurtunity that i’ve missed.

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