29 September 2009

Australian Bushfire Activity: 8-17 September 2009

The image shows the latest 10-day composite map of hotspots for Australia from 9-17 Sept 2009. It was extracted from the NASA Rapid Response Global Fire Maps website. That site has been down for a few weeks, so the last update in this format is from about a month ago.

As a whole, recent fire activity is occurring at about the same rate as last year, although the locations of the fires are different. Last year at this time saw activity mostly occurring in NT; this year there is considerable activity in QLD. Two years ago also saw considerable activity in the NT, including widespread wildfire in the Tanami Desert.

As mentioned, the bulk of activity during this period has occurred in QLD. Much of this activity has been noted in from posts earlier in the month. Many of the areas currently of concern have been burning for some time. Visible in the image in QLD are fires near Rockhampton, the north coast near Townsville, Cape York, and Carnarvon National Park. A widespread area of hotspots is apparent throughout SE QLD. Some of these are fires and some are artificial hotspots from industrial activity.

Hotspots are also visible along much of coastal NSW, extending to near the VIC border. This activity in the south is very unusual for this time of year by several months. The northern coastal activity is fairly normal.

Venturing further afield, the fires in the Gulf country near Booraloola are visible. Considerable activity, normal for this time and place, is also apparent in Arnhem Land in the Top End of the NT. More unusual is the high activity on the Tiwi Islands,north of Darwin.

A large cluster of hotspots is visible in the Kimberley. Estimating from NAFI, that fire burnt around 60 000 -80 000 ha. Also present was a fire on the tip of the Dampier Peninsula. Further west, in the Pilbara, is a loose cluster of hotspots south of Port Hedland and Roebourne. This activity is larger than has been observed in the previous few seasons.

28 September 2009

Eastern Australia 2

Bushfire woes continue throughout eastern Australia, with numerous wildfires continuing to burn along the coast from far north QLD to southern NSW. The image (click to enlarge), captured around 1300 LT from the MODIS instrument aboard the NASA Aqua satellite depicts some of these fires.

Major effort today was focused near Rockhampton (the R on the image) today, as firefighters used water bombing aircraft to save houses from destruction.

More fires are apparent further south in QLD, burning in the general vicinity of Maryborough (M). A fire producing a good deal of smoke remains burning on Fraser Island (mistakenly identified in previous posts...). Most of these are not threatening property at this time.

The situation is relatively calm in the vicinity of Brisbane (B), with only a few hotspots and smoke plumes noted. Fires also continues in the Townsville area, although these are not shown in the image. A general summary of the wildfire situation in QLD today can be found at the QFRS website.

Along the central and northern NSW, several areas of wildfire activity are noted. The RFS notes several major fires in the Greater Taree, Gloucester, and Great Lakes areas. These are visible at the bottom of the image, partially obscured by clouds although some smoke is visible.

Major fires also continue in the Clarence Valley area, including near the village of Wooli, close to coast just north of Coffs Harbour (CH) and a large 2 000+ ha fire in Gibralter range National Park, among others. The smoke from these fires is quite prominent.

While the weather hasn't been excessively warm, a deep low pressure system off the NSW coast is creating moderate winds (~30km/h) through the area. Humidity is also quite low, with RH values dropping as low as 5% in the Rockhampton case and below 20% in the afternoon more generally. Fire weather conditions are expected to moderate to some degree in the southern coastal parts, while northern regions could still see very high fire dangers. Fire bans remain in effect for much of QLD for the next two weeks.

27 September 2009

Dust and Bushfire: NSW-QLD

Another unusual weather day today across southern QLD and northern NSW, with a second large dust storm blowing across the region within the past few days. Bushfires flared across the state with near-extreme fire weather conditions across much of the area.

The image compares two views of the weather situation today. Both are from MODIS true colour images at 2km resolution; one from Terra (left) and one from Aqua (right), separated in time by about 2.5 hours. Both show the same region and come from the MODIS Rapid Response subset website. The QLD-NSW border is roughly in the centre of the image, a 1000 km by 1000 km square. Sydney is towards the bottom of the image; Brisbane about in the centre. The two images side by side provide nice examples for image interpretation, as well as simply awesome views of meteorological phenomenon.

One interesting, if obvious, feature is the dust storm itself. It extends (as seen in the image for at least 1400 km. News reports suggested that the dust would come strike Brisbane in two phases. These are clearly visible in the images; a more diffuse layer followed by a thicker cloud maybe 50-60 km behind the leading edge. Using landmarks on the image (and Google Maps!), I can estimate a speed of 20-30 km/h for the leading edge.

The second, and more relevant for this blog, item of interest is the evolution of the appearance of the fire between the two times, associated with the changing weather conditions as the day evolves. The fire activity across the region today was much the same as yesterday. Numerous fires continue to rage in QLD, particularly in the southeastern part of the state; a major fire in northern NSW's Clarence Valley broke containment but is not directly threatening property as this time. A small fire, quickly extinguished, was reported in northern Sydney overnight.

Consider the most obvious fires in the images, the Carnarvon National Park fire (smoke plume top left) and the N. Stradbroke Island fire (top right). In the Terra image (left), the plume are quite extensive but appear thin compared to the later Aqua image, where the smoke in those is quite dense and of thicker appearance. Careful comparison shows that there are more smoke plumes and widespread hotspots (apart from the main two) in the later image as well. Fire weather conditions in area worsened considerably between the time of the two images; the day got hotter (temps in low-30s...), wind speed picked up and relative humidity dropped to 10-20%. The conditions intensified the fires, producing the thicker, more frequent smoke apparent in the image.

Fire weather conditions are are predicted to remain in the very high range for much region tomorrow. Fire bans are in place for parts of SE QLD.

26 September 2009

Eastern Australia

The image is from the MODIS instrument on board the NASA Aqua satellite. It was captured on 25 September at approximately 0235 UTC, around 1230 local time. It nicely encapsulates the ongoing bushfire situation in QLD and northern NSW.

1. Numerous fires are present on Cape York Peninsula, as is typical for the season. Many of these fires have been burning for a week or more.

2. The fires that were threatening houses and property yesterday have been brought under control or nearly extinguished. Although the situation continues to be monitored.

3. Homes are currently under threat in Ilbilbie, the northernmost hotspot. The fires north of Yeppoon also continue to burn.

4. Fires continue in Carnarvon National Park. A large smoke plume and numerous hotspots are apparent. The image from the 24th showed a particularly large smoke plume and was featured on NASA's Natural Hazards web page. These fires have been burning for some time, but recently flared with the severe fire weather conditions.

5. Numerous fires continue in the Brisbane, Sunshine and Gold coast regions of southeast QLD. These are mainly under control, but the threat of re-ignition and new fire starts remains. The dense smoke is arising from a fire on North Stradbroke Island.

6. Northern NSW has seen some bushfire activity in recent days, with fires at Cudgen and Dundurrabin being contained earlier in the day. Ongoing fires are noted in the vicinity of Port Macquarie in the RFS current incidents. Hotspots are far between here, but experience suggests that they are often missed by the satellite in this region. Some thin smoke plumes w/out identified hotspots can be seen on the image.

7. Several fires are also noted in the 'Great Lakes' region of NSW in the RFS current incidents. Ongoing fires are noted near Taree and Gloucester and a 2000+ ha fire has recently been controlled at Bulahdelah.

For the 26th, the weather across the east is expected to be dry and windy ahead of an approaching cold front. Very high to extreme fire weather conditions are expected and fire bans are in effect for most of the regions noted here.

24 September 2009

Noertheast QLD

Bushfire woes continue in QLD today. Here the focus being on the northeastern portion of the state, the coastal stretch being Townsville and Cairns, but fires continue across much of the state, with a house lost in Booyal, southwest of Bundaberg this morning

The image show the true colour MODIS from the Aqua satellite overpass around 1330 LT this afternoon. Cairns and Townsville are marked with a C and a T. An emergency evacuation at Mount Fox resulted from the fire near the '1', with approximately 20 houses being threatened. Also visible in the image, offshore, is the dust storm which affected much of the country yesterday. A more complete summary from earlier this afternoon can be found here.

Fire weather conditions remain bad, although conditions have moderated to some degree from the extremes of the past few days. Fire bans have been extended to early next week. It is not particularly hot, but it is very dry with moderate gusty winds, increasing the fire danger to high to very high levels. In Townsville this afternoon, RH dropped to around 5%. Fire dangers are expected to remain in the high to very high range throughout much of coastal QLD.

23 September 2009

Southern QLD 3

Firefighters in QLD again today fought several fires, as dry, windy weather maintained high to very high fire dangers across the region. As of this this afternoon, the fires in populated regions of the state are under control or extinguished.

Significant fires were noted in Neurum, Imbil, Cedar Pocket. Moolboolaman, Dangore, Lowmead and Bambaroo. Many of these were ignited today, but some had been burning for a week. Some photos of the fires near Imbil fire are available here.

The image is the MODIS true colour image from the Terra satellite from around 1000 LT this morning. The most striking feature is the large dust storm stretching across most of the continent. This storm struck Canberra yesterday and pushed through Sydney around dawn this morning and Brisbane later in the afternoon. Some of the fires faced today are visible as hotspots in the image. Also visible are the fires in Carnarvon National Park, noted previously (centre of image) some fires north of Yeppoon which have been burning for some time now. Both of these blazes are in more remote country and pose little threat to lives or property at this time.

Fire dangers are expected to remain in the very high range for Thursday, particularly along the central coastal regions of the state.

22 September 2009

Southern QLD 2

Bushfires flared today across QLD, with at least eight major blazes being battled across the state:

In the south-east, there are fires on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, Mount Mee near Woodford and east of Gympie.

A large bushfire at Imbil is burning on three fronts and threatening properties.

On the Fraser coast, crews are fighting a fire north of Maryborough.

There are also fires at Johnstown in the South Burnett and at The Caves, north of Rockhampton.

Many of these fires are reported as being under control or burning within containment lines as of late this afternoon, although some were threatening properties earlier in the day.

A fire ban was in effect for several regions of QLD today. In the interior regions of QLD temperatures were in the mid- to upper-30s with relative humidity around 10% and strong gusty NW winds. Fire dangers were in the very high to extreme range in much of the area.

Although not noted above, fires in more remote country reported here last week made major runs today as well; the fires in and around Carnarvon National Park showed smoke plumes extending for several hundred kilometres downstream in the image from the NASA Terra satellite around 1100 local time. (The coastal portions of this image are earlier in the day, from a different overpass and don't really show the activity reported above. The Aqua image, later in the afternoon, is unavailable as I prepare this. It is likely more striking than the one linked.) A very rough estimate suggests that an additional 5 000 to 10 000 ha were burnt today in the main fire in the park. Other new fire starts are also suggested from NAFI. As before, these fires are remote and likely of little threat to human values.

Unrelated to the fires, but also visible in the linked image is a large dust storm which impacted points further south. Canberra, in particular, was heavily affected by the dust.

Fire weather conditions are forecast to reach extreme values through much of southern and eastern QLD on 23 Sept as well, as the strong NW winds are expected to persist. This also applies to parts of northern NSW also.

20 September 2009

Cape York QLD

The image shows an overview of fire activity on Cape York in far north QLD as viewed from the MODIS instrument on board the Aqua satellite around 1400 LT 20 Sept 2009. Numerous plumes of smoke from active wildfires are visible in the image.

The level of fire activity present in the picture represents a fairly typical amount for this area. Much of this country burns every one to two years. Fire dangers are in the high to very high range, with moderate winds and temperatures in the low- to mid-30s. Again, these are typical values. None of these fires presents a significant threat to human life or property; the country is remote and sparsely populated.

Using NAFI, it is suggested that these particular fires have been burning for roughly a week of so. The largest of these fires are the southern most ones (roughly the centre of the image...), with the three large plumes. Looking at the high resolution 721 image from the same overpass reveals the signature of open flame -- a bright pink colour in the false colour imagery – suggesting that the fires are quite hot. The green colour to the west (vegetation) of the largest also suggests that this fire could continue to burn for several more days at least. To date, the largest fire scars suggest on the order of 80 000 to 100 000 ha burnt.

The northern-most smoke plume visible on the image has also burnt a large area; it is about 80 km north of Weipa. It has also been burning for a week or so, consuming about 60 000 -70 000 ha. 
In general, the remaining fires are comparatively small and short lived. No media reports are available for any of these fires.

17 September 2009

Southern QLD

Numerous fires are noted throughout southern QLD this evening. The image shows the true colour MODIS from the NASA Aqua satellite at about 1320 local time this afternoon. Detected hotspots are shown in red. Several impressive smoke plumes are apparent in the image.

The most impressive plume is marked with the 1. This fire is located about 20 km east of the town of Injune. Hotspots have been detected for about a day according to the NAFI website. In the high resolution 721 from the same time, you can see the open flame being detected in the image.

Several fires are also noted burning in or near Carnarvon National Park, marked with the 2. These have been burning for several days.

The smoke plume fire near the 3 is burning in Barakula State Forest. Some open flame is also visible from this one on the 721 image as well, though not as strongly as the other.

Other relatively isolated hotspots are noted throughout SE QLD.

All of these fires are burning in relatively remote areas, far away from human values. Fire weather conditions are currently noted to be in the moderate to high range and are forecast to remain so for the next few days. Conditions are forecast to be hot, but winds are likely to remain light through the weekend. No fire weather warnings have been issued to date.

13 September 2009

Southern NSW

A fire ban was in effect for the southeastern reaches of NSW today, as temperatures reached the low-30s with gusty NW winds in many places. More than 60 bushfires were ignited across the state today.

Earlier, homes were threaten south of Guerilla Bay along the South Coast and in the Port Stephens area (near Newcastle).

The Eurobodalla fire noted previously along the south coast escaped containment earlier in the day, but made no threat to life or property.

The majority of these ignitions have been contained, but a few fires remain uncontrolled this evening, included ones near Kempsey, Lake Macquarie and the fires in Eurobodalla.

There are also numerous fuel-reduction burns under way, as well.

Fire weather conditions are expected to moderate for the next few days. The early forecast suggests west to northwesterly winds and warm conditions could make a return on Thursday.

Here is a link to this afternoon's MODIS image. Some small smoke plumes can be noted, but nothing especially impressive (from space, anyway...) is on display.

Sunshine Coast

I noticed multiple hits as a result of searchs for 'sunshine coast bushfire' or some variant.

No media reports on bushfire from the area. I had a look on the NAFI site and noted a few hotsports in the area from the overnight MODIS passes. Using Google maps, the fires are/were apparently located in Mooloolah River National Park.

Weather conditions in the area don't look particularly conducive to runaway fires. Best guess would suggest that these are of no general threat and likely to be controlled/extinguished soon (if they aren't already).

If anyone has any other information, feel free to pass it on in the comments...


This is from the QLD RFS, the night of the 12th..
Queensland Fire and Rescue Service along with Queensland Parks and Wildlife officers will be conducting a large backburning operation in the Mooloolah National Park over the next few hours after a fire broke out in the national park earlier today.

12 September 2009

NT/QLD Gulf country

Below is the Aqua MODIS image for 11 September 2009 at 0405 utc, about 1330/1400 LT showing extensive smoke plumes from several large, rapidly expanding (in some cases) bushfires to the south of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The two large, smoky fires are in the NT, the other smoke area is in QLD. Click on the image for a larger view.

The image is rotated from the typical view, so that north is slightly askew (the yellow arrow). A very approximate scale is shown at the bottom and the 'B' in the centre is Booroloola more or less; don't bet your life on these, but they're generally OK and do give an indication of the scale of the image.

The large fire on the left and the one in the centre have started in the last 2-3 days. On the image in a 3-days ago post, no hotspots were indicated in this area. Interestingly, there was a field of cumulus clouds over the area with perhaps a few deeper, better developed clouds, suggesting perhaps a lightning origin of these fires. No rain was reported in the area, but there aren't a lot of stations, either...IN any case, the smoke looks quite dense, and the north-western fire (i.e. left) in particular is spreading quickly.

The two areas of smoke on the far left were noted in the post from three days ago. There aren't too many hotspots identified in the image, but earlier overpasses suggest them. The smoke from the bigger of these two looks to be hugging the ground, remaining quite low. It looks to me like the smoke is flowing around hills, with the tops of them poking out of the plume. Topo maps (at NAFI) do show some hills near the source(in more or less the right direction) generally reaching heights of ~250m or so.

There are a few other hotspots visible in the image; nothing spectacular at this time.

Fire-weatherwise, conditions across the region have been 'very high' with hot temperatures, low RH and moderate but gusty winds. Fuel loads are high and fully cured. This weather is not atypical and similar conditions is expected to continue for a few days. In all likelihood, these fires will continue to spread for the next several days.

These fires are not threatening any human values at this time -- that does not mean they are without impact. Hot uncontrolled wildfires release release more CO2 than cooler early-season burns. There is also an impact on the local flora and fauna. Finally, the smoke can travel and affect air quality far downstream, potentially a public health risk.

10 September 2009

NSW south coast

The latest reports from the NSW RFS indicate that the fires reported previously on the NSW south coast have been extinguished or are only being patrolled. It turns out that some of these fires were a result of escaped fuel reduction burns made by private land owners presumably seeking to prevent bushfire damage. While such burns are a necessary part of any wildfire management strategy, inappropriately lit fires can far reaching consequences as this case shows.

While the fire situation is currently quiet, the weather forecasts for the upcoming weekend in area could see an increase in fire activity with warm temperatures and strong, gusty NW-ly winds predicted for Saturday and especially Sunday. The underlying drought conditions, which remain severe in the area make this a situation to monitor.

08 September 2009

North Australia update

The image represents a MODIS composite of three of the subset files (Australia1, 2 and 3) from the NASA Rapid Response site. These are at 2km pixel size and captured from the Aqua satellite. Also shown are the hotspots detected during the overpass. It works out that the local time when the satellite passes overhead is roughly between 1330 and 1430, early afternoon. The image presents a relatively clear view of northern Australia and encapsulates the fire situation quite nicely.

In particular, that situation is one of relative quiet, certainly compared to this period two years ago. The areas currently burning remain small at this time, but the potential for many of these to expand to a larger, more significant wildfire remains. In any case, most of these fires remain well away from populated areas.

Combining higher resolution views of these composites (see the subset page) along with NAFI website suggests that many of these fires have started within the last week, if not the the last couple of days.

A quick summary of areas of interest. Numbers correspond to those on the image.

1. The fires in the Kimberley have just recently started. Both of the most apparent hotspots (west and NE of the number) have good clouds of smoke, suggesting a hot, well burning fire. Fire dangers are forecast to be 'high' across the region, the middle category.

2. This fire located ~130 km SE of Katherine has been burning for a few days. Dimly visible under the clouds is a thin plume of smoke. Its eastern and western extents are in part blocked by fire which burnt in August, whether deliberate or not is unknown (to me). A fire ban has been issued for the 9th just to the west of this area.

3. This fire in the Gulf Country of QLD has been going for a few days. It had a very striking appearance on the '721' imagery (not shown, sorry) with the spectral signal of open flame apparent, a very hot fire. It looks to have flared up today, with warm temperatures and moderate winds.

4. Judging from the bright smoke plumes, these fires on the Cape York Peninsula are going well. At this time of year, the number and intensity of the bushfires pictured are is fairly typical for the area and the time of year (as are those in Arnhem Land across the Gulf...)

5. Further south along the QLD coast, between Cairns and Townsville, some small but significant wildfires are apparent in the imagery. This is the area where homes were threatened several nights ago and again today. Fire weather danger remains significant, but not overwhelmingly so.

06 September 2009

Small but serious

A small but serious fire reported in QLD.

Sunshine Coast crews were dousing a 50 hectare bush fire that raged for several days in almost impenetrable terrain near Conondale.


The Conondale fire was threatening four Cookes Road homes about 7pm on Friday

The article also indicates that much of the area hasn't seen fire for 30-40 years.

02 September 2009

Australian Bushfire Activity: 8-18 August 2009

Below is the latest 10-day composite hotspot maps for Australia extracted from the NASA MODIS Rapid Response Global fire mapper.

The most recent data indicate that as a whole, Australia is experiencing relatively mild bushfire conditions compared to the last year (follow link above and click on appropriate date) or two years ago. During those years, considerably more fire activity was evident, particularly in the NT.

Some activity is noted in the Top End and along Cape York Peninsula. A few fires are also indicated in the Pilbara in northwestern WA with some isolated hotspots seen further south in the Victoria desert. None of these episodes appears particularly severe or extreme. The northern parts of the continent should be coming into the most active portion of their fire season now, so the potential remains high for future activity in the coming weeks.

Nationally, the most unusual areas of fire activity is currently found along the NSW south coast. The RFS incidents page indicates that crews used today's milder weather to strengthen containment lines and bring the fires under control.

01 September 2009

NSW south coast

Current activity in NSW has suggests that the 2009-10 fire season will likely be a memorable one. The image, captured on 1 Sept 2009 around 1045am local time from the NASA Terra satellite, shows several fires burning along the NSW south coast.

The NSW RFS current incidents page notes several regions of concern at this time.

  • Eurobodalla – A fire near Tilba which has been burning for more than 4 days, threatened homes and burnt nearly 3 000 ha. These are the southern region of smoke in the image.

  • Shoalhaven-- 4 areas of concern are noted in the RFS dispatch. These fires are currently 'Being Controlled' although one fire remains listed as going. No human values are under direct threat at this time. One of these fire is a re-ignition of a previously controlled fire. This group of fires is the more northern plumes of smoke in the image.

Some of the fires in this region are the result of escaped fuel reduction burns lit by private property owners.

This region of Australia is currently experiencing a severe drought at this time. Soil moisture is very low and fire dangers are much higher than usually encountered at this time of year. There have been running fires in the region for more than a month throughout the region, much earlier than normal. The fire season has been officially declared a month early here. The fire control officer of the Shoalhaven district notes the unusual nature of these fires and the climate:

"In my 29 years with the service, I have not seen fire behaviour like I've seen in the last three weeks in my whole career," he said.

"There's something going on, fuels are very very dry and if this is an indication of what we are up against for summer, people will really need to be well prepared."

Given the developing El Nino in the Pacific, history suggests a long, severe fire season for this region.