Greater investment ‘critical’ in fight against super firestorms 


Australia needs to continually research significant fire detection and water bombing capacity if it is to have any chance of preventing future super firestorms like those which claimed hundreds of lives in Victoria this year.

This is the key message underpinning humanitarian specialist Dan Baschiera’s submission to the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, which began April 20, in Melbourne.

Charles Darwin University coordinator of the Bachelor of Humanitarian and Community Studies, Mr Baschiera said that firestorms of the magnitude of the Black Saturday fires were well beyond the capacity of any normal fire management regime currently in place.

“It is a chaos event which can only be labeled as the super firestorm,” he said.

“We had our first clues to this phenomenon with the Canberra fires of 2003.”

Mr Bascheria likened the devastation of the Victorian bushfires to the firestorms generated by World War II bombing campaigns.

“What the super firestorm represents is a totally abnormal event in known Australian fire-fighting history,” he said.

“It is nature’s reaction to the higher temperatures and its striking consequences are unprecedented and its arrival has been one of shocking surprise.

“The Canberra experience had the super firestorms moving across open fields so the removal of ground fuel has little effect, with one expert citing temperatures of 1100 degrees in the pine forests.”

Mr Bascheria said he believed the crisis in Victoria demonstrated a need to re-examine the Defence Support to the Community Legislation, with a more proactive and tactical role for the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

“This should be a concerned response to the unprecedented challenges that will occur with global warming and in particular with regard to the rapid threat to life by a super firestorm.”

He said the immediate requirement was to provide the ADF with capacity to immediately respond to a super firestorm threat.

“In the future this capacity could be transferred to a civilian agency, but at the moment only the ADF has the logistical capacity and training potential required,” he said.

“All the costs associated with my recommended strategies should be outside the current Defence budget as the ADF, which does a fantastic job with what they have, is stretched thinly enough as it is.

“With the demonstrable further onset of rising and record temperatures, Australian governance may need to have ADF capacity positioned in a more proactive stance to help defend the Australian community from both environmental as well as military threat.”

Mr Baschiera said there was only one way to control the super firestorm and that was by its immediate extinguishment before it developed.

“What is needed is an ability to immediately locate the start of a fire and then to logistically and accurately deliver tonnage of water to its source in the shortest time possible,” he said.

“This large capacity water delivery needs to be sustained until a deployment of immediate response fire-fighters can eliminate the threat fully.”

Mr Baschiera said processes needed to be in place for the ADF to rapidly convert and deploy its military C130 aircraft into modular water-tankers with site-specific airstrips located to re-fill and re-fuel efficiently.

“If we don’t have enough C130s, then I fear we will have to buy some more as global warming is going to dictate the need to substantially increase our fleet of these mercy aircraft,” he said.

“This will enable the rapid deployment of humanitarian logistical aid across the continent and well into our regional areas of concern.”

In his submission to the Royal Commission, Mr Baschiera noted the technological advances in the US, which meant that unpiloted aerial vehicles (UAV) monitored high-risk areas with a range of sensors.

“The ADF should acquire at least one of these aircraft and have them ‘in training’ over the fire zones at the critical times of the year,” he said.

In 2007, the experimental deployment by the US Air Force of a UAV over the Californian fires was highly effective in averting the potential loss of life.

“The sensors can and do see through smoke and spot the start of fire in real time, enabling the RAAF to scramble water tankers into the small window of opportunity before the fire takes a serious hold,” he said.

“The ability to see through smoke also allows for the accurate targeting of the fire source. This technology, capability and capacity is now available and it is recommended that it is fully researched and tested.”