Thursday, 22 May 2014

Fighting Fires - Canberra Firestorm 2003

With the millennium came the drought.  To the east and west of Palerang in New South Wales, the ancient forests started to dry,and then die.  And then one terrible summer, in 2002-3, they started to burn.  They started on the coast with a fire that tore through Sassafras in the mountains to the coast at Nowra.  Then, a couple of weeks later, a dry lightning storm ignited the mountains all around, ending in many houses in the capital Canberra being destroyed.

Australian trees are fairly resilient to 'cool' fires.  But if a hot fire breaches the outer structure of the tree, the trees can burn - from the inside out.  We call these candles.  The one below is low - many of the most dangerous candles are far taller - spreading embers a long way in front of the fire.

Candle - near Sassafras 2002

Near Sassafras 2002

The remaining pictures were taken during a mission a couple of days after the fire storm hit Canberra - near a small town to the west of Canberra called Wee Jasper.  

In some of the pictures you will see writing.  This is writing on the inside windscreen of fire trucks.  Because the fire trucks were in use constantly (we rotated crews through them 12 hours on 12 hours off) at the end of each shift the crew leader would record defects in the truck.  However, at that stage, there was little opportunity to stop and repair the vehicles.

Sometimes the missions were hectic with no time for picture taking.  This day the fire was in retreat and we had a little time.  I remember one of our tasks that day.  The town and farms were safe so, working with a helicopter, we put a fire break around a tree with a nesting eagle.  

Peter Quinton - Wee Jasper - 2003 
Peter Quinton
May 2014

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