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CATASTROPHIC FIRE CONDITIONS? January 8, 2013

Posted by wmmbb in Environment.
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At around midnight I picked up the phone to hear a robo message from the NSW Rural Fire Service.  All the neighbours I have spoken either took the phone message or received an sms.

I was directed to the website, but I could not hear what was said because I was listening to Democracy Now. So it is was easier enough to find the website. It provided this information:

State-wide TOTAL FIRE BAN declared for Tuesday 8 January 2013

Catastrophic Fire Danger Tuesday 8 January 2013 for Illawarra, Shoalhaven and Southern Ranges.

Messages to both SMS and landlines have been sent to the above areas.

This is NOT an evacuation order it is safety advice from the NSW RFS.

Only later, after a further search did I find the real import of the message:

Major Fire Updates

Emergency Alert Telephone warning message for Illawarra, Shoalhaven and Southern Ranges. 07/01/13 2
Posted: 07/01/2013
Tonight an emergency alert telephone warning message has been sent to the areas of the Illawarra, Shoalhaven and the Southern Ranges.

If you have received this message you are in an area that is forecast to have Catastrophic Fire Danger on Tuesday 8 January 2013.

For your survival, leaving early is the safest option. Leaving a bush fire prone area tonight or early tomorrow morning is recommended.

Make a decision about when you will leave, where you will go and how you will get there. Homes are not designed to withstand fires in catastrophic conditions.

ABC News reports:

Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says people should be alert to any danger.

“Catastrophic fire danger ratings are the worst you can get. We are talking about the most extreme fire behaviour – destruction is likely,” he said.

“We will see ember showers likely to be thrown 10 kilometres, if not 20 kilometres ahead, under the extraordinary conditions being forecast.”

Commissioner Fitzsimmons says communities should prepare for the worst.

“We are looking at widespread areas of New South Wales likely to experience very high, severe, and even catastrophic conditions,” he said.

It is all very well to tell people to leave, but to where to go? The implication is that the escarpment or parts of it will catch fire. It is certainly very dry. There is not water in the creeks.

On Facebook, The NSW Rural Fire Service provides the following clarification:

The message being sent out to residents in the Catastrophic fire danger area is NOT an evacuation order it is safety advice from the NSW RFS

The Illawarra Mercury provides the following:

The Illawarra is

on high alert after the Rural Fire Service gave the region a ‘catastrophic’ fire risk rating.

It is the highest possible risk rating.

Last night residents across the region were sent text and voicemail messages warning of the danger.

The temperature reached 29 degrees just after 6am in Albion Park with Bellambi hitting 24 degrees at Bellambi.

A total fire ban is now in effect.

A north-westerly wind is now blowing across the region.

I think that is sorted now. Outside it is windy, but I don’t get the sense the temperature will make 43. It is about 7.18 am and it 25 degrees Celsius. We will see what happens. At this point in time according to a neighbour the closes fire is 98 kilometers away.

 UPDATE:

We are not completely through this drama, the cool change has not been as strong it seemed to be. The temperature inside the house without air conditioning has risen to about 34 degrees Celsius, or 94 Fahrenheit. So far we seem to have escaped any fires, hope that will remain the case. It has been a learning experience. We can be confident that these conditions will reoccur. I was not the only one to engage in last minute efforts to prepare the house, although as the Fire Service stated houses are not designed to withstand the brunt of embers and a fire front. If no danger emerges in the next hours, I can feel some satisfaction in making the judgment to use the ladder to clear the gutters and cut some overhanging branches.

I have to admit that I was squeezed by a sense of panic when I decoded what the phone call meant, which is a response that tends to inhibit clear thinking and decisions, a form of mental paralysis. Fingers crossed still but the experience teaches, I believe, the need to have issues pre-thought out.

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