31 December 2007

WA Goldfields bushfire

A serious fire situation has arisen in the Goldfields region of WA. A severe bushfire has claimed three lives along the main Perth-Kalgoorlie highway in Boorabbin National Park. Initial reports suggested that two adults and a child were killed, but the latest reports indicate that three adult males were the victims. Several trucks were in a convoy moving through the park after apparently being informed conditions were (relatively) safe when the fire struck. An expected change in the weather brought the fire onto the highway, resulting in the tragedy. This story from The West also provides an additional interview with one of the survivors. The picture of the burnt-out trucks accompanies that story.

Latest reports indicate that the fire has burnt over 7500 ha of the park. Weather conditions on the 30th were quite extreme, with 42+ degrees, relative humidity below 10% and winds gusting to 50+ km/h were reported at Southern Cross for much of the afternoon -- dangerous fire weather. Conditions have eased somewhat today.

A MODIS “721” false colour image from the Aqua satellite is shown below. This image was captured on Sunday afternoon, before the tragedy. The hotspot activity is clearly visible. Looking back through the archives, the hotspots become apparent on Friday afternoon.

The large area of brown on the extracted image looks a bit like the 'fire scar' or bare ground signal from this satellite channel combination, but it is much larger (by several orders of magnitude) that the burning area, and it is not there in images captured today (Monday) or those immediately prior to this one or even the Terra image for the same day...The true colour image from the same time suggests perhaps some very dark smoke...it is very difficult to tell.

The Arson Squad has been called in to investigate any human involvement in the ignition of the blaze. The Aqua image from this afternoon clearly shows the fire is still burning, but the DEC link for fire updates (in the sidebar) does not appear to be currently operating, so the current status of the fire is unclear. Given the less extreme weather, fire crews likely have a better chance to bring the blaze under control.

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