Australian Wildfire Update

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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.”

Finally, Some Help

As you’ve probably noticed, Universe Today has gotten in influx of talented writers to pitch in around here. Tammy Plotner, of course, has been working with me for years, and so have Nancy Atkinson and Mark Mortimer. Ian O’Neill and Nick Wethington are newer contributors, but have definitely proven to be great additions to the team. Thanks to them, I’ve been able to tail back my writing a little to be able to catch up on the world’s longest to-do list.

One huge piece of news, though. As of yesterday, Nancy is now working full time for Universe Today, and will be able to contribute many more stories over the coming weeks and months (dare I say… decades?). Nancy is going to be joining the Astronomy Cast Live team at the upcoming 212th American Astronomical Society meeting in St. Louis from June 1-June 5, 2008, where we’ll try to provide an absurd amount of coverage.

I hope you’ve all noticed and appreciated the jump in quality and coverage from Universe Today, and I’m hoping things will just get better from here.

Fraser Cain
Publisher, Universe Today

No Images in the Newsletter or RSS

Hi everyone, I just wanted to let you all know that I’m aware that images aren’t showing up in the RSS feed or the email newsletter. I’ve changed my publishing system to a program called WordPress. It’s a huge timesaver, but I’m still working to make it match all the features of the old design. It’s going to be a few more days before I’ve got the images showing up. After I get that working, I’m going to bring my entire archive over, so that will be accessible again.
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