This time last year — on fires

I feel (hope!) indications are that this bushfire season will be much less disastrous than the last. Mind you, the rest of the world from the west coast of the USA through to Lebanon/Syria/Israel has been on fire just lately. And we has a bit of a taste just north of here in the Royal National Park over the weekend.

Last October I posted this. The sequel through the rest of 2019 and into 2020 is well known. And then came COVID! I included in that post these pics from 2013 taken here in West Wollongong.

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And in Wollongong, near City Diggers, this sky:

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Photos tagged “spring” — 2

From my mothballed photo blog 2008-2013. Supplemented with later pics from spring seasons since on this blog. Those will often be from other photographers. Like the first one, which is from 13 November 2019.

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And that was just the beginning of sorrow! And now on the west coast of the USA! How long before climate change denialism becomes as respectable as flat earthism? How long?

Now jump back! September 2008, Belmore Park near Sydney Central Station. From here on all the photos in this post are mine.

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Now September 2009: East Redfern — Michael’s orchid.

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September 2010: West Wollongong:

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September 2011: West Wollongong again:

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September 2011: Crown Street Wollongong:

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September 2012: Wollongong City Beach

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September 2013: West Wollongong:

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More spring pics to come….

Back to bushfires again….

Not literally today, which here in The Gong is particularly wet as we are experiencing the effects of the dreaded east coast low.

But you will recall that for almost six months from spring through summer the theme was bushfires. Here are just two pictures from that time, the first from November 2019, the second from December 2019.

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Harrington NSW

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Dargan, near Lithgow NSW  — part of the Gospers Mountain fire

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I raise all this because the ABC has an amazing online feature and set of documentary reports called Anatomy of a ‘mega-blaze’.

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That tree, deep in wild Wollemi National Park, was where it all began — struck by lightning, one strike out of 19.068 during a single spring storm.

“By the end of the Black Summer, the Gospers Mountain blaze accounted for half of the mega-blaze at 512,142ha, the Kerry Ridge blaze 323,900ha, the Little L Complex 169,834, the Three Mile fire 45,944ha, and the Grose Valley fire 19,920ha….”

Just before Christmas 2019:

With catastrophic conditions again forecast for December 21, Premier Berejiklian declared a second State of Emergency.

Thousands of firefighters were now in the field, as strike teams from interstate and overseas joined the battle.

“The first thing you experience is the ember attack,” Mr Burley said.

“It’s like a snowstorm but embers, and then the colour of the sky turns to orange, then dark.

“It’s like sitting in front of an oven.”

Volunteer firefighter Stacey Kent was with her RFS team on the fire’s southern flank, trying to stop it crossing the Hawkesbury River and making a run into Sydney’s northern suburbs.

“Just walls of flame, and like, as far as you could see, from the treetops to the sky was just orange, no matter where you looked,” she said.

“If it crossed the river, it was going to be catastrophic.”

By then, emergency management officials at all levels of government were planning for the worst.

The ABC can reveal extensive preparations were made to evacuate thousands of residents from Sydney’s Hornsby and Hills districts….

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We became accustomed but not inured to signs like that over spring (that one is from spring!) and summer 2019-2020.  I had several relatives affected by this and other blazes — yes, there were other mega-blazes — including my cousin Ray Christison of Lithgow who wrote at the time:

“Big day for an old bloke. Thanks for everyone’s thoughts and support. I just want to clarify something. I’m not in the RFS and was working yesterday as a museum volunteer. I have considered joining the RFS over the years but know I would be allocated to a communications role.”

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So do visit that latest ABC offering. I conclude with poet and Blue Mountains resident Mark Roberts who in commending the ABC site on Facebook said:

Remember how Andrew Bolt, Craig Kelly and the hordes of other experts claimed there was an army of arsonists moving across the country lighting magazines as a political act to prove Climate Change? The Gosper’s Mountain fire was started by lightning strike 19,068 in a single storm. Later strikes expanded the fire. I expect the apologies are already being written.

Further to Mark’s comment see Media Watch 3 February 2020.

ROWAN DEAN: Unprecedented bushfires? Unprecedented drought? No, this Australian summer has been the summer of unprecedented stupidity. Never before have we had to suffer such idiocy in public debate and political commentary, nationally and internationally, in relation to two of the most common and predictable occurrences in Australia’s climate cycle, drought and bushfires.  

– Outsiders, Sky News, 26 January, 2020

Hello, I’m Paul Barry, welcome to Media Watch.

And welcome to Groundhog Day, where the loudest voices at News Corp are adamant that the summer’s terrifying bushfires have nothing to do with climate change.

Or, if they have, there’s nothing we can do about it.

And, as always, welcome back to News Corp’s team of hand-picked, highly-paid columnists and TV hosts on Sky, who are leading the chorus:

PETA CREDLIN: So, let me deal with the issue head on. Does climate change cause these fires? No.

– Credlin, Sky News, 20 January, 2020

CHRIS KENNY: … So that’s the key. The drought. And if drought can’t be blamed on climate change you can’t blame the fires on climate change, especially when so many are deliberately lit …

– The Kenny Report, Sky News, 11 December, 2019

ALAN JONES: What’s burning in Victoria are eucalypts. What’s burning in South Australia are eucalypts … When are we going to wake up and stop using this as an excuse to justify the climate change hoax?

– Richo & Jones, Sky News, 29 January, 2019

Passionate denial that the bushfires should make us act on climate change runs right across the Murdoch media in this country reaching an audience of millions….

Yes, Alan Jones, that famous expert on bushfires and climate change, has now left radio 2GB and hawks his voice on Sky In The Dark where he displays his credentials on epidemiology and public health — all backed  by the same rigorous study. Not bad for a fellow BA Dip Ed! I envy him the depth and confidence he brings to those calm and rational conclusions on such knotty matters, as follows.

I have spared you the voice.

The longer politicians fail to mention the vast majority of all coronavirus cases are mild and over 99 per cent of people will recover, the longer “they will deserve the contempt that the public feels towards them” says Sky News host Alan Jones.

Mr Jones said the public are “ropeable and rightly so” over the handling of this virus by our political leaders. He said “Dodgy Dan” won’t answer the questions the public wants answers to.

Neither the Victorian Premier, nor NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, will tell the public “how many of these cases are mild and how many are critical”.

Mr Jones said the best way moving forwards is for Dan Andrews to “resign today,” but instead more fear is being spruiked, this time in the form of the wearing of face masks in the state.

He also added residents in New South Wales are being told to be on “high alert” by Premier Berejiklian. “Well I will tell you who is on high alert … the voter”.

Such ineffable wisdom! Oh bow down, people, before the Mighty Al! Rarely has so little been said so loudly to such maleficent effect!  He really is a master! Of crap….

Blogging the 2010s — 122 — December 2019

Yes, I know: what have I done with 2018? Well, I just thought this a better follow-up to the previous post here. And six months on we were dealing with COVID-19!

Now it’s the TWO million plus hectare fire!

Referring to my post of 13 November —  see my tag bushfires.  The immediate area around Wollongong has so far escaped, though there are fires not too far away. But there are months to go as summer is just six days old!

Most of the smoke that blankets Wollongong this morning is probably from the fires to the south, which were horrendous the past few days. This photo is from the Illawarra Mercury.

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Peeping out my door this morning:

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On top of old smokey…

Here, thanks to the Illawarra Mercury, is a glimpse of what yesterday looked like just south of where I live.  From my perch in Mount Keira Road there were times I couldn’t see this part of the world, or Mount Keira even…

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ABC has a good explainer:

Leaving Beijing for a new life in Sydney, Gloria Zhou never thought she’d need smog protection again.

But a decade after settling into her new home, Gloria is once again reaching for a face mask.

The haze produced by a month of unprecedented bushfires around Sydney has left her feeling nauseated.

“We know this is not normal for Sydney,” the 30-year-old IT consultant said.

And the Herald:

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Can’t avoid the fires!

Do look at The Gospers Mountain ‘Monster’ — and that is just ONE of the firegrounds in NSW at the moment, beyond which we have South Australia and Victoria. Gospers Mountain is now more than SEVEN times the size of Singapore!

Nearer home we have Green Wattle Creek. Of part of that our Premier said:

There is “not much left” of the township of Balmoral following Saturday’s devastating firestorm through the hamlet south west of Sydney, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.  “We have got the devastating news that there’s not much left in fact [in the] town of Balmoral.”

Here is a map showing that the Green Wattle Creek fire is between 30 and 40 kilometres away from me here in West Wollongong. Now that may seem a long way, but “There’s no questioning the facts. During a fire, embers can travel up to 40 kilometres ahead of the fire front and fire speeds can reach over 25 kilometres per hour.”

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And here is what we have seen out towards Lithgow beyond the Blue Mountains north-west of Sydney; this is a tiny place called Dargan:

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And here is my cousin Ray Christison in Lithgow itself. He writes: “Big day for an old bloke. Thanks for everyone’s thoughts and support. I just want to clarify something. I’m not in the RFS and was working yesterday as a museum volunteer. I have considered joining the RFS over the years but know I would be allocated to a communications role.”

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I simply refuse right now to join in the political argey-bargey, though I will say that it was a bad Robo-Scomo moment when he doubled down on the government’s rather tawdry record on climate change — unlike the Premier of South Australia this morning, to name but one. Clearly we need to think long and hard as a country about this — but equally we need to avoid slogans and oversimplifications.

It really is complex, but my bottom line is there is no longer any reason at all for a sane person to doubt that global heating, in large measure human-induced, has provided the context in which this unprecedented set of conditions (including the fires) are playing out now.

For example, whatever happened to the North Australian monsoon? That it hasn’t yet materialised is one major cause of the monstrous heatwaves that have been experienced across the country in recent weeks, themselves in turn a major factor in the fires we now experience.

Robo-Scomo, right as he is about the need to be kind to one another — and I don’t regard that as hypocrisy, does need to go back to the drawing board on climate policy, and he does need to squash the baying asses in his own ranks — and one of them is not all that far north of Wollongong — who still think climate change is a heap of shite!

Addendum

Just found this on ABC Illawarra, who, incidentally, broadcast the fire alerts for all NSW through Saturday morning. Wow!

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Blogging the 2010s — 113 — November 2019

Thought seeing today is the Queen’s Birthday holiday I may as well round off the last November in the 2010s set!  And what a month! Fire!

And that would go on and on until Coronavirus took centre stage!

Memory and apprehension: what will tomorrow bring?

Usually at this time of the year I focus on 11 November, Remembrance Day, but this year so many memories are being laid down here in Oz, good and bad. Good? Not a fan of Scott Morrison, but I pay my respects to this, which can’t possibly be faked.

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And I am going to get the elephant in the room over with quickly by saying simply: YES — THERE IS A BLOODY GREAT ELEPHANT IN THIS ROOM! And we need to deal with it! Unlike Morrison’s deputy who has been banging on about those cliched “pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies.” Shame on you, McCormack! Try this for size: from a former Fire and Rescue NSW commissioner: This is not normal: what’s different about the NSW mega fires.

I write this piece reluctantly, because there are still possible fire victims unaccounted for; people have lost loved ones; and hundreds of families have lost their homes. My heart goes out to them. I don’t want to detract in any way from the vital safety messages that our fire commissioners and Premier will be making about Tuesday’s fire potential.

And cool as ever, writing these days from Armidale, Jim Belshaw: Fires, drought and climate change within New England.

So what about tomorrow, Tuesday 12 November? This: note that the term CATASTROPHIC is used for Greater Sydney (Blue Mountains and down to The Shire) and Greater Hunter —  the first time the Sydney region has been rated at that level since the new fire danger ratings were introduced in 2009. The Gong is EXTREME. The NSW Premier has already declared a State of Emergency.

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Here is where we have fires right now:

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And for those overseas, let me post this so you get an idea of the territory involved:

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On October 25 I asked: Wonder what this year’s bushfire season will bring? Could be dramatic….. Well, now we know. So far. AND IT’S NOT SUMMER YET!

I consider my own street. These pics I took eight years ago. Today, despite a cloudburst Sunday before last, it is much drier up there. Imagine that escarpment in flame! It has happened before. See my post 1968 and Illawarra burns.

So fingers crossed, eh!

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Update 11/11 1.20 pm — The Gong now CATASTROPHIC!

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The million (and more) hectare fires

And that’s just New South Wales. And that’s just so far… Of the many images we have seen, this one from Harrington NSW stands out:

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Fortunately yesterday we here in the Illawarra were spared serious fires, though not the catastrophic weather conditions. Here in West Wollongong it hit 39 C around 3 pm, and the wind at times was strong. The most obvious sign was the haze, a mixture of smoke and dust. When the southerly came at last the temperature soon dropped 10 degrees, but sadly no rain, and in the foreseeable future no sign of rain.

The bush near here is certainly ready to burn. As a neighbour pointed out there hasn’t been a major burn-out since 2001 — and I recalled that one because it was on Christmas Day, and I saw it not from The Gong but from Paddington in Sydney. On the way home from Christmas Lunch at the Dowager Empress’s place to Elizabeth Street Surry Hills I saw, to the south, great clouds of smoke.  And the post is still lurking in cyberspace!

I am just back from Christmas lunch with the Dowager Empress of Hong Kong. His Atlantic salmon was to die for, and the tamarind prawns were–oh my God, I don’t usually eat prawns, but they were wonderful. The Christmas cake was a genuine Mrs Beeton recipe (with a whole bottle of brandy); it was light yet flavoursome. There is no doubt the Empress has a talent. I would have loved to have shared this day with the Crown Prince, I really would, but that could not be. Sirdan was there, and Paul Davis and another friend of DEHK’s.

On DEHK’s new DVD and digital TV we saw several episodes of Queer as Folk, which is not on free-to-air TV here. It is such a shame that SBS did not get it for late night viewing, because it is actually very good indeed. I would like the chance to see it again.

Walking home was an apocalyptic experience. The ground is yellow with smoke as bushfires ring Sydney. It is very hot and there are strong winds. The south and west of the city looked to be totally in flames from the vantage point of the inner city. According to the latest news the Blue Mountains are very bad, and the road north may soon be closed. To the south around Appin seems also to be bad. M. has headed north but would have got through before the problem arose.

Ironically, given the past few days, that Christmas M. (Michael) was heading for Laurieton!

Today our attention is especially on Queensland, but it does need to be said that this is just the beginning of months in which we very likely will see yesterday’s catastrophic conditions return.

Back to the Elephant in the Room again — and I really do commend again Jim Belshaw’s post. Let me also commend a recent (31 October 2019) opinion piece in the New York Times by Katherine Hayhoe, a professor at the Climate Center at Texas Tech University, and an evangelical Christian.

An important and successful part of that framing has been to cast climate change as an alternate religion. This is sometimes subtle, as the church sign that reads, “On Judgment Day, you’ll meet Father God not Mother Earth.” Other times this point is made much more blatantly, like when Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told Glenn Beck in 2015 that “climate change is not a science, it’s a religion…”

…my favorite question is the one I often hear from fellow Christians: “Do you believe in climate change?”….

As I always do now when someone asks this, I explained that climate change is not a belief system. We know that the earth’s climate is changing thanks to observations, facts and data about God’s creation that we can see with our eyes and test with the sound minds that God has given us. And still more fundamentally, I went on to explain why it matters: because real people are being affected today; and we believe that God’s love has been poured in our hearts to share with our brothers and sisters here and around the world who are suffering….

I want to make one rather obvious point: it is not quite correct to say that climate change CAUSES bush fires. Lots of things, including arson, cause fires. What climate change has done however is to magnify the CONDITIONS where bush fires are likely to be worse and more frequent. To me this is hardly controversial!

On the other hand there is finger-pointing on the subject of hazard reduction. Now clearly hazard reduction is a good thing. But I urge you to read Factcheck: Is there really a green conspiracy to stop bushfire hazard reduction? by Graham Readfern.

Large parts of New South Wales have been in the grip of catastrophic fire weather this week as firefighters desperately work to save homes, properties and lives.

But as firefighters try and beat back the bushfires, a familiar blame game began with critics pointing fingers at “greenies”, claiming they get in the way of hazard reduction efforts that might have reduced the size and scale of the disaster.

“These are very tired and very old conspiracy theories that get a run after most major fires,” says Prof Ross Bradstock, the director of the centre for environmental risk management of bushfires at the University of Wollongong, who has been researching bushfires for 40 years.

“They’ve been extensively dealt with in many inquiries.”…

Sadly, silly and unfortunate things have been said on several sides by politicians who really should know better. I quite agree with the Sydney Morning Herald’s David Crowe on this:

The loss of Australians’ homes, and sometimes their lives, should shame politicians who exploit human misery to score points against their enemies. Yet the politicians cannot help themselves….

… For some politicians, everything about you is seen through the prism of partisanship. Even your death.

When [Barnaby] Joyce called in to radio station 2GB later in the day, he sounded under huge stress as he tried to save his parents’ home in country NSW, but the damage from his earlier remark was already done.

This was a dismal but predictable sight for anyone who has watched the decline of Australian politics over the past decade.

I am not going to dignify Barnaby’s remark by quoting it! And Greens Senator Jordon Steele-John was not much better.

Update

What might have been yesterday, or what might be! This photo of Mount Keira — so close to me — was taken I believe during the 1968 fires. Found on Facebook but the source is elusive, but it is a real photo. Scary, eh! Showed it to an old lady here at Diggers who remembered it happening.

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