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Old 01-11-2020, 11:07 PM
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Is the problem with wildfires a lack of trained firefighters, or that they can't stop the fires


I think I read that Australia currently has about 2700 active firefighters fighting the wildfires there.

There are also recently fires in the amazon, california and various other places that are going to get worse due to climate change.

So when it comes to fighting wildfires, is the issue that there aren't enough firefighters and firefighting equipment, or is it that you really can't stop a wildfire once it gets out of hand no matter how much funding, equipment and trained personnel you throw at it?

If the issue is the former, are there any efforts to beef up international fire fighter squads to deal with these issues? Since fires in the northern and southern hemisphere do not happen at the same time, I'm wondering if it'll be common for firefighters from one hemisphere to be in the other hemisphere when it is winter in their home country.

Are there efforts to create more international cooperation to fight fires (again, especially considering that wildfires seem to be a summer occurrence, and when its summer in the north its winter in the south, etc).
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Old 01-11-2020, 11:23 PM
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They are doing some relatively small international exchanges:
https://www.latimes.com/california/s...s-and-applause
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Old 01-11-2020, 11:34 PM
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The problem is the scope and scale of the fire events. 2700 firefighters are woefully inadequate for the fires currently happening in Australia. That number is diminished by the firefighters who have to remain on duty in population centers.


Here is the US, there are detailed plans for moving units and teams to the fires, while other teams come in behind them to cover their territory and so on. So downstream at the fire, you have an increase in resources in people, and upstream things are more spread out. We also have local, state, and federal agencies that coordinate. We even pull firefighters internationally.



I don't know what's in place in Australia, but I would imagine it's similar. Perhaps one of our Australian members can add more information.



Now imagine thousands of acres burning. Even when you're ready, it can be tremendously difficult to get fires under control, especially when it's hot and dry. Throw in some winds to move the fire forward, and sends sparks flying in new directions, and you've got problems. To make things even more challenging, when fires get big enough, they generate their own weather.


Of course, in a strange sort of way, the answer to your question is also a lack of resources. In a perfect world, there would be an instant, growing-as-needed supply of fire fighters that has evolved as climate change took effect.
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Old 01-12-2020, 12:28 AM
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There's a saying that every fire is different. Firefighting requires extensive ongoing training to learn new techniques and hone their skills. Building (at training facilities or a planned demolition sites) and brush fires can be set for training. Not so for large wildfires.

Last edited by lingyi; 01-12-2020 at 12:31 AM.
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Old 01-12-2020, 04:59 AM
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So when it comes to fighting wildfires, is the issue that there aren't enough firefighters and firefighting equipment, or is it that you really can't stop a wildfire once it gets out of hand no matter how much funding, equipment and trained personnel you throw at it?
The problem is more the size/extent of the fires than issues around numbers of people and amount of equipment and/or funds.

The sorts of wildfires we see in places like California, Fort MacMurray (in Canada - parts of which continued to smolder for over a year), Australia, etc. come under the formal definitions of conflagrations or firestorms, with such features as heat sufficient to melt aluminum until it runs like water and firenados, because a regular just-air tornado isn't apocalyptic enough. When it is said these fires "generate their own weather" what that means is the rising hot air draws in air from every direction, giving the fire more oxygen to burn hotter, and secondarily the clouds generated form lightning, which then strikes the ground around the fire setting yet more fires.

So, yeah, there are some issues there not with equipment or training or people or money but things like tornadoes of fire which combine the "ordinary" destructive forces of tornadoes with incineration, fire hot enough to melt equipment (never mind what it would do to human beings), and just the sheer extent of these blazes. Oh, and random lightning strikes.
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Old 01-12-2020, 05:46 AM
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I don't know how the setup is in the US, but here, metropolitan fires are fought by paid firefighters, but bushfires are generally fought by volunteers. There was a an amount of political back-and-forth earlier in the fire season about the prospect of adding in paid fire crews ... there was a certain amount of "well, that's disrespectful to our dedicated volunteer service" pushing back against "yeah, but we need more resources on fires, what else do you propose?". The defence force can get called in if it's really bad - that's happening now.
Oh, and of course a lot of firefighting is done by people on their own properties too. Often they'd be the same folk in the local fire crew.
Added to this, the current government has painted itself into the "bushfires are no worse than they ever were because climate change isn't happening" corner (this is looking very shaky for them at the moment) which makes it hard for them to admit that we might not be able to keep doing things the way we've always been doing them.
Relations between the metropolitan fire service and the CFA (Country Firefighters Association) are not always cordial - there was a State government minister pushed out ... uh ... year before last, I think, in a barney over where one ended and the other started (Melbourne keeps growing like a bloated jellyfish, turning former "country" areas into urban areas)
I don't even pretend to know what the ultimate shape of the fire service ought to look like, but any change would be very contentious because Australians have got a lot of emotional investment in our "fireys" - comparable to the way Americans feel about veterans, I think
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Old 01-12-2020, 06:03 AM
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Also, bear in mind that Australia has a lot fewer people than the US, in a land area that's about the same as the continental US. Eastern Victoria is pretty sparsely populated, and there's a fair bit of rough country with few or no roads. There's a grand total of one highway in the area (Princes Highway) - and it's two lane for most of that area, with the occasional passing lane. Have a look at the Mallacoota area - I remember reading about people being stranded on the seashore there during this last set of fires, and it's no wonder. There's one road out of town, a narrow two lane, and that can get cut off quite easily.
In sum, even getting to the fire area can be a real chore - not to mention getting away from the fire. Try driving trucks, dragging hoses, through the hills where there are no roads...
Add to that having fire fronts that are tens of kilometers long...well, past a certain point, you just get people out of the way, and let things burn.
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Old 01-12-2020, 06:04 AM
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Oh, and another thing I should probably point out - rural Australia is much more sparsely populated than rural America, both because we've just got way fewer people in general, and because we're one of the most urbanised countries on the planet. So that really limits the pool of available young people (particularly young blokes) to get involved. And it's young people who are leaving the bush in droves to go get work in the cities too.

This ad for volunteers is pretty iconic, and I think gives you the flavour of the sort of emotions involved in the whole issue.
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Old 01-12-2020, 09:50 AM
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There are also recently fires in the amazon, california and various other places that are going to get worse due to climate change.
Do you have a cite for that, or are you just blithely repeating the media's scare-mongering?
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Old 01-12-2020, 10:25 AM
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Do you have a cite for that, or are you just blithely repeating the media's scare-mongering?
Environmental Research Letters
LETTER • THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE ISOPEN ACCESS
Projected changes in daily fire spread across Canada over the next century
Xianli Wang1,5, Marc-André Parisien2, Steve W Taylor3, Jean-Noël Candau1, Diana Stralberg4, Ginny A Marshall2,4, John M Little2 and Mike D Flannigan4
Published 2 February 2017 • © 2017 IOP Publishing Ltd

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/1...48-9326/aa5835

I trust that you will enjoy thoroughly reading the paper and also each of its 63 cites.
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Old 01-12-2020, 12:15 PM
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the problem with wildfires couldn't be that we adopted a policy of stockpiling the fuel source without planning on how to protect it against the inevitable natural ignition process that has existed since the dawn of time.
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Old 01-12-2020, 03:00 PM
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the problem with wildfires couldn't be that we adopted a policy of stockpiling the fuel source without planning on how to protect it against the inevitable natural ignition process that has existed since the dawn of time.
My search didn't turn up the recent thread to cite but fire-fighting professionals have clearly held iclimate change, not "green tape" (environmental restrictions), responsible for massive burnoffs. And leading Aussie enviro groups have worked for fuel reduction.

Wildfires are generally carbon-neutral in the long run, but current fires load CO2 into the atmosphere much faster than uptake by vegetation, the natural carbon cycle, leading to greater heat retention and more energetic weather with stronger, hotter firestorms and stronger, colder winter storms. The pros say, this is the new normal. Are you ready?
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Old 01-12-2020, 04:59 PM
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the problem with wildfires couldn't be that we adopted a policy of stockpiling the fuel source without planning on how to protect it against the inevitable natural ignition process that has existed since the dawn of time.
Both Native Americans and Australian Aborigines had groups that would frequently set deliberate fires as part of hunting and land management that may well have mitigated fuel build up. The problem might be more with the "enlightened" descendants of Europeans trying to suppress ALL fire in a region rather than allowing low-level, patchy, and frequent burning to reduce fuel loads.
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Old 01-12-2020, 05:13 PM
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Being in California, and having seen my share of fires, it is quite something to see an entire mountain range on fire. When you see that, you can not help but conclude that an army of tiny humans is going to have little impact on such a conflagration. Add into it that our terrain is canyons and mountains, not areas that humans typically traverse easily in good conditions. So, it would seem that even quadrupling the number of firefighters would barely make a dent.
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Old 01-12-2020, 05:55 PM
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I've often wondered if we have advanced the science of fighting fires beyond chasing the front line. We have every square inch of earth mapped out with elevation points. Are we applying computer modeling of winds and topography against predicted outcome? Instead of fighting a fast building fire going up a hill should we be drenching the downside of the same hill to arrest forward motion?

From a technological standpoint we are at a place in time where a computer model could be programmed into a crew's flight plan in real-time to stop the movement of the fire instead of stopping the fire.

I've also wondered why we stopped researching high pressure fire suppression. By that I mean the technology that forces water at high pressure to atomize it so it's more efficient per volume of water. It would mean better utilization of water that has to be tankered in on the ground.
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Old 01-12-2020, 07:32 PM
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Any chance of deploying tanker aircraft? The current fires seem to be fairly close to the coast. Are they close enough that something like the CL-415 or similar could be used to load and drop seawater on the fires?
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Old 01-12-2020, 07:55 PM
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Soil salinity is a major problem in Australian agriculture. Water bombing is certainly part of the fire-reduction strategy, but I see big problems using too much in the way of seawater
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Old 01-12-2020, 08:10 PM
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the problem with wildfires couldn't be that we adopted a policy of stockpiling the fuel source without planning on how to protect it against the inevitable natural ignition process that has existed since the dawn of time.
A short BBC article on contolledburns in AU.
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Old 01-12-2020, 08:22 PM
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Both Native Americans and Australian Aborigines had groups that would frequently set deliberate fires as part of hunting and land management that may well have mitigated fuel build up. The problem might be more with the "enlightened" descendants of Europeans trying to suppress ALL fire in a region rather than allowing low-level, patchy, and frequent burning to reduce fuel loads.
Controlled burns can only happen though when the conditions are conducive to the fires not getting out of control! Australia is in the grip of a prolonged drought, and climate change has prevented the usual burns happening in the cooler months when they would normally occur.

Fire 'season' in eastern Aus normally doesn't really kick off until late Jan into Feb. This season they began back in November, in the hottest year on record. And they've been going ever since.
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Old 01-12-2020, 10:44 PM
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Soil salinity is a major problem in Australian agriculture. Water bombing is certainly part of the fire-reduction strategy, but I see big problems using too much in the way of seawater
And as a side note I would imagine it has to be done in a bay area where the water is calm enough to land.
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Old 01-13-2020, 12:24 AM
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Any chance of deploying tanker aircraft? The current fires seem to be fairly close to the coast. Are they close enough that something like the CL-415 or similar could be used to load and drop seawater on the fires?
We have (and are using) various water bombing aircraft, including some from overseas (they spend the northern hemisphere's summer up there, and then come here in the northern hemisphere winter - like the Erickson aircranes, and a modified DC10 air tanker - we have Tanker 911 here at the moment, I think - and borrowing those resources is only going to get harder as our fire season extends and so does the northern hemisphere's).

If you're curious, I don't know what the 2019/20 fleet is but the National Aerial Firefighting Centre had a list from the 2018/19 season, here, including where they're based (AAS stands for air attack supervision).

As you can see from that list or chart, most of them are smaller craft - there aren't many of the big boys. The largest is Gaia, the modified 737 with a 15,000l fire retardant capacity, and the DC-10 which has something like three times that.

But aircraft on that scale aren't common. For instance, there are only four of the DC-10 tankers in the world, and all the big ones do that location-sharing, where they come south for our summer then go back home and, as mentioned, that's going to get harder to manage in future. And they cost millions to lease - AU$2.5m for the DC-10, I think I recall reading.

Someone's already mentioned why using seawater is a bad idea that just dumps a shitload of salt into the area along with the water, and it screws up regrowth. There's a reason for that saying about "salting the earth" Has an effect on the firefighting aircraft too.

That said, salt water has been used when there's nothing better available, according to the NAFC.

Last edited by tavalla; 01-13-2020 at 12:26 AM.
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Old 01-13-2020, 05:53 AM
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A big Australian bush fire is literally like a bomb going off. It is not physically possible to get enough water on it to make it go out. It will burn until it hits a fire break or the weather changes.

In Victoria, the weather typically changes sufficiently to put out fires after about a week. Crews manage fire breaks, put out spot fires, and damp out after. In NSW, fires often burn until the end of summer.

If you burn frequently, there is not enough fuel build up to make a bomb-like fire. There is a continuing debate about how much burning-off should be done. In Victoria this year, we only had about 1/3 the burning off recommended by the last inquiry. Of course, if you burn off regularly, you get a managed landscape. It's like farming. We don't currently have agreement on if we want a managed landscape or a natural landscape.
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Old 01-13-2020, 07:23 AM
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BBC article on cool-burning. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-51043828
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Old 01-13-2020, 08:02 AM
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The fire service has long been very fluid in manpower and equipment usage. Even in big cities with well funded and trained firefighters and modern equipment, the necessity of requesting additional aid from other fire departments is normal. When there is several huge events the ability to increase manpower gets used up, so not enough resources to fight such fires. I've seen it in NY that a state park Minnewaska burns it self over every 5-8 years as part of a natural cycle. When that tinderbox is set to pop fire efforts come from as far as 100 miles away, that's what it takes in terms of resources for a area that has natural fire boundaries (namly the ridgeline and the end of the area of dwarf pine trees which is the main fuel source), so all and all a naturally self containing fire. That's a lot of man power. Add to that the remote location, which often means hiking in/out - sometimes off trail, sometimes near cliffs, carrying equipment which is very heavy and very limited water if at all - and if you have water you still need a way of getting it to the fire and on the fire add to that water is very heavy. It's just a massive undertaking under shit conditions where human efforts are naturally slow many times the fire can move faster than the firefighting efforts (and this is when you get into predicting where the fire is going to set up a defensive line - which may or may not go there and may jump the line - that also often means that the smoke, then heat then flames come, so that line can often not be maintained).
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Old 01-13-2020, 08:06 AM
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When conditions are bone dry and very windy, it's almost impossible to stop them because they move so quickly and "jump" across barriers because they are so wind driven. They cover a huge area compared to conventional fires.
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Old 01-13-2020, 05:19 PM
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Now imagine thousands of acres burning.
Nearly 11 million hectares burned; = 27 million acres which is the area of Kentucky, Tennessee or Virginia


You can fight the front of a grass fire, even in adverse conditions.
You can find a containment line, backburn from it, place the fire units in front of the fire to mop up any break out. Essentially the problem is one of getting sufficient resources.

In Australia the wildfires are in eucalypt forests in national parks. Under the right conditions the fire will move through the tree tops (“crowning”) and in character is essentially a BLEVE (boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion). The front can advance at speeds way faster than you can drive. Ember attacks can start spot fires 10s of kilometres ahead of the fire front.(I presume that this phenomenon occurs with north American fires but eucalypts are particularly prone to producing embers). Putting these out is the key component of defending property.

There is very little that the firefighters can do to put out a bushfire/wild fire of this scale, regardless of the level of resources available. Rather it’s a matter of trying to contain it until it burns out the contained area or get a change in weather conditions, in particular rain.

The main function of the fire crews at the fire front are property and life defense.
The less glamorous but more important in the long term work is on the fire flank and because when/if the wind changes that becomes a new and extended front. Contain the flank and when the wind changes the right way you have a contained fire.

You cannot stop the fire front of a wildfire. You can defend isolated properties in the path with ample water, good spray systems and possibly the intervention of water bombing, but the fire front itself is going straight over the top of you.
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Old 01-14-2020, 05:30 AM
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In Australia the wildfires are in eucalypt forests in national parks. Under the right conditions the fire will move through the tree tops (“crowning”) and in character is essentially a BLEVE (boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion). The front can advance at speeds way faster than you can drive. Ember attacks can start spot fires 10s of kilometres ahead of the fire front.(I presume that this phenomenon occurs with north American fires but eucalypts are particularly prone to producing embers).
This is correct, the phenomena occurs in North America as well, but eucalyptus are extraordinarily flammable plants, and that's the indigenous flora of Australia. It makes for a more intense problem with embers than occurs elsewhere.

It doesn't help that they were brought to California - they burn nicely here, too.
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Old 01-14-2020, 09:26 AM
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Also, bear in mind that Australia has a lot fewer people than the US, in a land area that's about the same as the continental US.
For a point of comparison, Texas and Australia are roughly equivalent in terms of population (Texas has slightly more people), and Texas isn't exactly what we in the US would call a state with a high population density, even in the large metro areas.
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Old 01-14-2020, 03:33 PM
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We're due for rain today/tomorrow and ongoing, which I hope will be heavy enough to help the firefighters get everything under control. However, now we have a new problem - all that ash getting swept downstream may bugger up the rivers
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Old 01-15-2020, 04:03 PM
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Thunder bolts and lightening, very exciting.
Sun obscured by cumulonimbus, not haze.
Raindrops, umbrellas, petrichlor.
C'mon Hughie, send it down.
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Old 01-17-2020, 02:25 PM
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Both Native Americans and Australian Aborigines had groups that would frequently set deliberate fires as part of hunting and land management that may well have mitigated fuel build up. The problem might be more with the "enlightened" descendants of Europeans trying to suppress ALL fire in a region rather than allowing low-level, patchy, and frequent burning to reduce fuel loads.
There was an op-ed piece in yesterday's Times by an Australian aborigine who claimed that there no massive fires in her tribal areas because they did prescribed burns all the time to keep the underbrush cleared and that they had been doing since forever as far as anyone knew.

Meantime, the Australian PM spoke to the coal miners and assured them that he was doing everything to increase coal exports (I think to India and China). A Trump clone?
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Old 01-17-2020, 02:54 PM
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the problem with wildfires couldn't be that we adopted a policy of stockpiling the fuel source without planning on how to protect it against the inevitable natural ignition process that has existed since the dawn of time.
Not really. Yes it is true in certain areas which have a "fire ecology", and a political climate and enough fire combatants to natural fires. But it doesn't have much to do with the scale of the fires we are seeing now. That is climate change, not fire suppression. It is happening all over the world, where sorts of different managements including no management at all are in force.

Trying to blame poor management of fire ecologies, or "media scares", or lack of personnel, instead of clearly documented climate change, is just more ways of refusing to acknowledge and deal with reality because it's too overwhelmingly frightening and hopeless.

Understandable, and yet still enraging.
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Old 01-17-2020, 03:59 PM
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Further to post #29 - there was rain. It did indeed bugger up the rivers.
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Old 01-17-2020, 04:37 PM
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Not really. Yes it is true in certain areas which have a "fire ecology", and a political climate and enough fire combatants to natural fires. But it doesn't have much to do with the scale of the fires we are seeing now. That is climate change, not fire suppression. It is happening all over the world, where sorts of different managements including no management at all are in force.

Trying to blame poor management of fire ecologies, or "media scares", or lack of personnel, instead of clearly documented climate change, is just more ways of refusing to acknowledge and deal with reality because it's too overwhelmingly frightening and hopeless.

Understandable, and yet still enraging.
This is how people f-d up the politics last time: they told people that drought was the same as climate change, and then when the drought ended people stopped believing the people who had told them that.

Climate change is not weather, and climate change is not bushfires. As long as you continue to equate the two, you will continue to be disproved by events, and continue to damage your side of the debate.
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Old 01-18-2020, 09:40 AM
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This is how people f-d up the politics last time: they told people that drought was the same as climate change, and then when the drought ended people stopped believing the people who had told them that.

Climate change is not weather, and climate change is not bushfires. As long as you continue to equate the two, you will continue to be disproved by events, and continue to damage your side of the debate.
Climate change IS weather. That is how it manifests. How do you imagine one measures climate change other than by alterations in weather patterns?
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Old 01-21-2020, 10:06 PM
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Climate change IS weather. That is how it manifests. How do you imagine one measures climate change other than by alterations in weather patterns?
At the moment, one measures it by small changes to the average temperature.
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Old 02-09-2020, 11:19 PM
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... and in his own good time and with a significant element of overkill as per his prerogative, Hughie delivers ....

Sydney wet weather extinguishes Gospers Mountain 'mega-blaze'

Firefighters say the past week's torrential rain has extinguished the Gospers Mountain "mega-blaze" north-west of Sydney. The fire, which burned through more than 512,000 hectares after it was ignited by lightning strikes in a remote forested area on October 26, was once considered "too big to put out".

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said the past four days in Sydney had been the wettest since 1990, with a combined 391.6 millimetres of rain falling.
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Old 02-11-2020, 01:23 AM
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After the drought and infernos come the flooding and mudslides, and no end in sight. Welcome to the New Normal.
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Old 02-13-2020, 06:08 AM
Cicero is offline
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If you have ever lived in sugar producing country, you may have seen them burning off the cane. If one of those fires gets out of control you can't stop it. Bushfires are far worse. And now (as said) in many parts we have had non stop rain. However, far more areas have had little rain.
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Old 02-13-2020, 06:34 AM
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Sydney water supply is serviced by a network of dams.

Last week we were about 40% capacity and subject to Level 2 water restrictions.
This week the dams are up by 31.1% to 73.9% which is over a years usage across the basin without restrictions. Nepean Dam went from half full to overflowing in about 72 hours
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Old 02-13-2020, 06:42 AM
Cicero is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by penultima thule View Post
Sydney water supply is serviced by a network of dams.

Last week we were about 40% capacity and subject to Level 2 water restrictions.
This week the dams are up by 31.1% to 73.9% which is over a years usage across the basin without restrictions. Nepean Dam went from half full to overflowing in about 72 hours
Off topic but I'm tired of bloody rain. It is unrelenting (UK folk can laugh at this post).
  #42  
Old 02-13-2020, 04:51 PM
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Off topic but I'm tired of bloody rain. It is unrelenting (UK folk can laugh at this post).
mrAru is from the San Joachim Valley [Fresno, well actually Kerman] and we have occasion to drive past a ranger station here in Connecticut and they have a Smokey the Bear statue holding a sign that tells what the fire level is. He once commented as he looked around at the verdant green woods and pastures along that road, and the bear holding a 'high' sign that the farmers where he was from would love the CT version of a drought.
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Old 02-13-2020, 08:24 PM
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I think I read that Australia currently has about 2700 active firefighters fighting the wildfires there.
NSW has 6,800 full timers and 5,700 volunteers
Victoria has 1,900 full timers and 20,000 volunteers.

So the number of 2,700 seems a bit light on I think.


On the climate change thing Australia's alliance of former emergency services chiefs has warned Prime Minister Scott Morrison that a bushfires royal commission will fail unless it focuses on climate change.

Bushfires in Australia are literally hell.
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  #44  
Old 02-13-2020, 10:44 PM
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... Smokey the Bear statue holding a sign that tells what the fire level is.
With the Australian fire warning levels displayed regularly along the roadsides, High is the second lowest level..
After High there is Very High, Severe, Extreme and Catastrophic.
  #45  
Old 02-15-2020, 08:32 PM
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Originally Posted by sisu View Post
NSW has 6,800 full timers and 5,700 volunteers
Victoria has 1,900 full timers and 20,000 volunteers.

So the number of 2,700 seems a bit light on I think.


On the climate change thing Australia's alliance of former emergency services chiefs has warned Prime Minister Scott Morrison that a bushfires royal commission will fail unless it focuses on climate change.

Bushfires in Australia are literally hell.

Amost none of the full-timers will be active in bush fires: they are trained and reserved for town fires.

Around half of the volunteers active seems reasonable to me. They don't go out-of-area for long periods, when they are out-of-area they get pulled back as fast as possible.
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