2009 alpine fires

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Overview

The fires that flared up in Victoria on Saturday Feb 7 2009 were not unforecast with warnings starting as early as the Wednesday 4th that it would be a bad day.

Absolute Extreme Fire Weather spike day.... FFDI and GFDI above 50 will be reached in the morning - from

9am onwards, with ratings above 80 by early afternoon. Poor relative Humidity recovery due to warm overnight temps.

FFDI = Forest fire danger indicator GFDI = Grass fire danger indicator 40 is normally enough for a TFB. So 80 is alarmingly high.

By Friday the 6th the worst fire weather forecast ever released for the state came out.

The Bureau of Met has issued its estimates for fire weather for

Saturday 7 Feb. They are the worst that I have ever seen. A forest fire danger index of 100 is forecast for almost the whole state. We in Gippsland fare a little better with only 57 for East Sale airport.

Using Tullamarine as an indicator for the worst case for Victoria the estimates are as follows.

Temp 44, Dew point -5, RH 7%, Wind NNW 55 kph gusting to 85 Forest fire danger index (FFDI) 100, Grass fire danger Index (GFDI)l00.

When you use McArthur meters this results in (assuming a fine fuel of 30 to/ha) in a forest rate of spread of 5.6 kph and a flame height of 77meters.

I have found (based of Hobart 1967) that McArthur underestimates in these extreme conditions and if the Drought factor is allowed to expand beyond 10 and an exponential average for wind speed + and - the gusting McArthur then works well.

I have recalculated the FFDI for Saturday using the expanded drought factor of 12 but only using the average wind speed as forecast and not the exponential average which would increase the FFDI some more.

My calculations yield

FFDI 186 Forest Rate of spread 6.7 kph Flame height 90m Spotting 20km

A westerly change of 35 kph i.e. strong but not as intense as Ash wednesday 1983 ( around 60 -70 kph) is forecast for late afternoon or into evening. That wind change of course greatly increases the area burnt as the east flank becomes the fire front for an hour or so and the fuels take 30 minutes or more to build their fuel moisture up again.

The fire intensity calculates at 100.5 megawatt per metre. The max for fire fighting is 2.5Mw/m, crown fires start at about 10Mw/m.

Assuming GFDI of 100, the grassland rate of spread is 13 kph but I would expect that it would reach the J.Noble max of 20 -25 kph.

These predictions are for the fire conditions experienced in Canberra 2003.

I doubt if the State has ever before faced such extreme conditions with fuel levels higher than ever, the prospects for Saturday are horrible.

Friday looks a little difficult and Sunday after the Saturday change is forecast to be very good although unfortunately no rain seems to be forecast.

The saving situation is that the extreme dry air does not encourage lightning and it is not mentioned on the forecasts for the next few days. Thus we are subject only to accidental and arson ignitions. Let us hope that neither of these occur although a realistic assessment would have to expect some. The high risk areas because of the terrible fuel situation are The Yarra catchment, the Otways and the remainder of the Strezlecies.

After checking on my analysis and if you deem it helpful could you let your networks know that this is the situation this fuelled up State is facing at least in my opinion.

You have no idea of how much I hope that I am wrong.

David Packham.

Unfortunately he was spot on.

Resorts

While the fires ravaged much of the state only one alpine ski resort was actually struck, that was Lake Mountain. Baw Baw was on warning and threatened but only Lake Mountain was actually hit by the fire front.

Lake Mountain

Almost everything at Lake Mountain bar the main building was burnt down. Please note the date stamps on these photos are wrong and they are post fire. Comparisons are post fire top and pre fire (winter) bottom.

Fire damage to the public shelter at Lake Mountain Feb 2009
The apple hut at Upper Muster Trail/Royston Trail junction
Echo Flat
Road Sign
The public shelter at Lake Mountain prior to fire damage
The apple hut at Upper Muster Trail/Royston Trail junction
Echo Flat
Road Sign

Alpine Towns

Marysville

Narbethong

Best described by a person present. Owner of Mystic Mountains ski hire as to how her shop survived the blaze.

Narbethong wasn't hit by a fire front but by intense ember attack. Basically it was raining embers. Some places were hit worse than others. If the embers landed in flammable material the resultant fire was intense and immediate solely because of the climatic conditions and spread quickly. The embers that hit my place mainly hit the steel walls and roof,although the garden was hit a little The rear of my shop used to be tennis courts and is therefore a flat and cleared - I'd mowed the grass there on the Friday morning. The fire raced through the grass but I guess the bulk of the building at the back caused a calm spot and the fire didn't reach the back of the building. The pieces of timber in the front carpark delineating parking spots are totally burnt and where each was, just two coach bolts remain stuck into the gravel. But there was nowhere really for a fire to take hold, except for the conifers running down each side of the boundary. I'd trimmed the lower branches of those trees that morning in the hope that it would reduce radiant heat on the metal walls, in the event there was a fire. (timber framed, metal clad building). But what has really struck me around here (not only at my shop, but Narbethong in general) was that the conifers are not all totally burned, and seemed to act as a heat shield. Now while the properties either side me were old buildings (one timber, one fibro) they went up pretty quickly (ember attack) and lit my conifers on their side. They're all burnt, but the needles on my side are just dead, not burned into extinction. I do have very slight building damage - one cracked toilet window, and the exhaust pipe thingy for the sewer connection on the outside wall is slightly melted.

One of the early people to my bunker sprayed a hose on the outside of the building to reduce the temperature of the metal, but the water didn't last long - that was really the only attempt to defend it. It pretty much survived on its own. I was in the bunker/cellar because I thought that the survival of the shop was probable but not certain.

The cellar itself has 3 walls of double brick built underground. It has a concrete ceiling (the floor of the shop). 2 bays of the cellar have concrete floors and the other 2 are dirt. The fourth wall is also brick but inset with 4 double sets of steel doors. The only danger in the cellar was embers getting in under the doors or through the vents in the doors, so I got the first people in (tourists) to patrol the doors armed with a soaker water pistol - I don't know whether they had to use it. Had the shop above collapsed over the back wall, the chances of us getting out at least one of the sets of doors would have been very high. And there's no direct access from the shop to the cellar - you have to go outside to get to the cellar.

There was also an article in The Age about the Narbethong survivors.

Following the fires members of the ski.com.au forum community organised a supply run to help out the survivors in Narbethong.