Sunday, January 4, 2015

Australia races to stabilize wildfires as catastrophe declared

Michael Heath at Bloomberg News: Crews in South Australia are racing to stabilize wildfires and protect homes as hot winds forecast to blow in from the desert later this week threaten to create catastrophic conditions. State Premier Jay Weatherill said firefighters would use planes from a neighboring state in an effort to gain control of the blaze that has destroyed a dozen homes. The Country Fire Service warned the temperature may reach 38 degrees Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) on Jan. 7 as winds switch from the northwest, while the Insurance Council of Australia declared a catastrophe.

“We are hoping to use very large air tankers that come from Victoria to dump about 11 really large loads on the fire front,” Weatherill said. “That will be so important for us to get control of this fire before those conditions worsen.”

The blazes have left 22 people injured and destroyed the biggest stretch of bush since 1983, when 75 people in South Australia and neighboring Victoria died in what became known as the Ash Wednesday fires. Australia’s hot, dry climate makes wildfires a significant risk throughout the southern hemisphere’s summer.

Brenton Eden of the CFS said large tracts within the 12,000 hectare fire ground that haven’t burnt were his main concern, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported. “We now need to concentrate on making sure in the next three to four days that there are no ember attacks into those areas, that there are no trees falling over into those areas,” the ABC cited him as saying. “Because the last thing we want to see is new fires burning inside the perimeter of the current fire and the potential to lose houses in there.”...

A scene from firefighters at a 2003 blaze in Australia, shot by Graham Tidy/The Canberra Times photographer, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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