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article imageAustralia looks like it’s on fire from space as bushfires rage

By Paul Wallis     Nov 9, 2019 in World
Sydney - This is perhaps the worst early bushfire season in Australian history. Multiple out of control fires are burning in bone dry, drought stricken areas. From space, huge plumes of smoke from 90 fires make it look like the country is on fire.
The NOAA space images are stupefyingly grim, but compared to the picture on the ground, they look like holiday postcards. These big fires are relentlessly destructive. Communities have been shattered, at least 3 people are dead, and several are missing.
Bushfire reports are typically an ongoing series of events and numbers which keep going up, sometimes for days or weeks. So far the numbers are looking godawful, and the events are often beyond meaningful commentary. You can say “X houses destroyed, X fires out of control", and so on, but it barely gives a picture of what’s happening.
Australian bushfires can make puddles out of cars, obliterate homes in a minute or two, and can race across the country like burning trains at recorded speeds of at up to 125kmh. These fires hit very fast, in some cases, with even locals taken by surprise, and almost no warning but a big tower of smoke almost on the doorstep.
Not much is left after these big fires go through. The fast movement also means they’re like blowtorches, much hotter in the directions they travel. The heat incinerates extremely quickly. One man now has what is effectively a piece of scorched tin where he had a caravan. Air quality is horrible, and the smoky air looks like you’re wearing yellow sunglasses.
Bushfires in eastern Australia
Bushfires in eastern Australia
Patricio ARANA, AFP
The basic stats barely tell the story:
• There are 90 major fires in progress
• 42 communities in Queensland alone are at serious risk and a formal state of emergency
• Northern New South Wales is in equally severe trouble, Numbers are starting to come in. 150 homes have been destroyed and 2 people have died.
• A little town called Bobin was basically wiped out when even air bombing couldn’t stop the fire which hit it.
These areas are in the middle of a murderous and very long drought. Water to fight the fires is scarce enough.
Economically, these areas were already under severe pressure. The farmers are still working the land as these fires roar past.
Tales of survival and miraculous escapes are always welcome, and there are already quite a few. We have another 3-4 months of this to come, and summer hasn’t even started yet. With any luck, the Queensland wet season will help to block fires, but nobody’s expecting much but more of the same.
New to bushfires? A quick guide to staying out of trouble
We don’t have too many “fire groupies” in Australia. At least, not live ones. These fires are too dangerous to be spectator sports. The people most likely to get into trouble are tourists and people who don’t know the risks.
So, a few pointers:
• If someone’s injured or suffering from smoke inhalation, call 000 ASAP. Someone will show up to help as soon as they can.
• Water can help with breathing issues. Injured people should only be moved when it’s absolutely essential for their safety. (Fractures in particular are very dangerous, and should not be moved at all, if possible.)
Follow instructions from police and emergency services immediately, and go where they tell you to go. Don’t waste time or breath on anything but asking them where to go to be safe. When they tell you to “get out”, do it ASAP. You may not get another chance.
• Even the smell of smoke is a signal to get everyone together and get ready to get out.
• Make sure you know where everyone is at all times, and don’t let kids out of your sight for a second.
• Plumes of smoke are sometimes your only warning of big trouble. Get organised and get ready to move out of the area.
• Do NOT approach ANY flames. Don’t even think about getting close to them. A small flame could be the start of a 50-metre high wall of fire travelling at about 80kmh, and your chances of survival aren’t likely to be good. By the time you turn around, the fire could be on you. Flames are incredibly hot at a surprisingly long range.
• Make sure you can see where you’re going when you’re on the move. If you can’t see, get into a position where you can. The risk is driving straight into the fire.
• Cars are no protection at all against heat from flames. You’re in an oven on wheels if you’re in a burning area. Do NOT drive through any area where you can’t see what’s happening.
• Take water with you, preferably at least 2 litres per person. Dehydration is a serious risk, particularly in hot weather above 35-40C. The heat alone can literally take the water out of your lungs, even without a bushfire to help.
• You MIGHT be able to help others who are stuck or can’t get away on their own. Whatever you can do, do it, but be very quick about it.
• STAY ALERT. There are emergency service notifications on your phone, online and in the local media. Keep up to date on the situation at all times. Fires can spread in a wide arc beyond their main lines, and can start up new fires miles from the existing fires.
You can follow the Twitter feed from the fires on this link.
More about Australia bushfires 2019, Queensland bushfiress 2019, New South Waled bushfires 2019, bushfire safety
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