13 October 2009

Kimberley WA

Several large fires are burning in the Kimberley, in far northern WA. This area of Australia is remote and sparsely populated. Many of these fires have been burning for several days, the largest was first noted (briefly) in this post.

The image (click to enlarge) shows the Aqua MODIS true colour image from 12 Oct 2009 at 0505 utc, roughly 1300 LT. Image is about 900 km square, quite a large area. Broome (B) to Halls Creek (HC) is roughly 600 km. The most prominent fires are burning in the top-centre of the image, a swirl of smoke and cumulus. A closer look at the NAFI for this region shows (via the colour-coded fire scars) the effect of earlier prescribed burns; the current fires (and also those nearby in the recent past) are hemmed in by a loose boundary of earlier fire scars.

Further south, at the bottom of the image, lies the Great Sandy Desert. There are 4 significant bushfires readily apparent in the image. Bushfires in these normally arid regions aren't an annual occurrence, but rather happen when fuel loads are high as a result of abundant rainfall in the area. This has been observed across much of this area over the past several years. The smoke plumes from these fires are quite dark, and very diffuse. The fires are likely of low intensity, and it is entirely possible that these fires are some form of fuel reduction burn.

Across the border in the NT, several fires can be seen. The large dark scar with a few hotspots on its northern edge is the fire reported previously (but not shown) near Wave Hill. My estimate of the affected area is now on the order of 250 000 ha. A few fires are also noted further north, in the eastern Top End.

Weather conditions are fairly typical for the time of year. Maximum temperatures are running near 40oC, low afternoon relative humidity with generally light winds. The lack of wind yields only moderate fire dangers.

Even fires in remote areas such as this can have an impact if conditions are right. While population is low, travellers can be affected. The fires in southern WA (current the subject of a coronal inquest) two years ago attest to the danger that seemingly remote bushfires in the desert can have.

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