Page 15 - January 2020
P. 15

 just a huge plume of smoke, very, very dark smoke,” Breingan said. “It was burning quite fiercely. What surprised me was that it came over a ridge very, very hot.” He and his colleagues managed to stop the blaze from moving beyond the village school. “We’ve got people who have been in the brigade for 25 years who said they’ve never seen anything like that; it travelled four kilometres in about 20 minutes.”
Of course , it isn’t only Australia that is suffering such fires - this year California was also hit many times by raging “wild fires”, the latest one being in Sonoma County where 22,000 acres and 50 homes were destroyed and a million people suffered electrical black- outs. Wildfire activity is said to be 50% above average for 2019. The cost of fighting wildfires topped $2b in 2017.
Fire fighters are resorting to better technology to combat this increase in wildfire activity - use of satellite imaging and “predator” drones helps pinpoint fire activity faster; quicker and more efficient means of creating firebreaks, using computer modelling tied in with actual atmospheric data, landscape and fuel condition helps. Using drones to deliver extinguishing means in the incipient stages of a fire is however, still beyond current practicality. Better fire retardants and extinguishing liquids are also being developed for mass spread from the air.
Technology is also coming to aid many in those communities, where useful apps can alert people to where the worst fire activity, provide safety routes for escape as well as showing where clusters of aircraft and helicopters are water bombing. Prevention is also a high priority is times of dry hot conditions - management of forests and bush as well as “messaging” of communities to minimise accidental ignition. However, it is likely that with global warming set to grow over the next twenty years at least, fires of the type now being experienced in Australia could become a yearly norm.
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Robert Faquhar Editor

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