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  • Katy L. Wood

Random Thoughts: Australian Wildland Firefighting

This question was originally asked and answered on Tumblr on April 12th, 2024. See original.


Anonymous asked:

Have you come across any research or accounts of Australian bush fires that has stuck with you? It’s been really cool (devastating?) learning about how differently fires behave all around the world. Love your balance of humour, facts, and obvious passion in your writing!

Thank you for the lovely compliment!

And I do know a bit about Australian Wildland Firefighting! Nowhere near as much as I do about American, but some. Australians, please feel free to correct me if I get anything wrong here.

But one thing I've always found interesting is that Australian Wildland Firefighters don't use fire shelters. (Incidentally, neither do Canadian ones. Actually. Now I'm curious how many countries do and don't use them. I'll have to look into that at some point.)

Fire shelters are these things:

They are meant to protect a firefighter in the event they cannot escape being burned over. However, they do not protect you from direct flame, they protect you (kinda) from radiant heat. That "kinda" is important. Firefighters do die in these shelters because they still get too hot, or they run out of air because the fire burns it all up, or from direct flame contact. They are far from a fail safe. But they DO save lives.

(Fun side fact: prior to the invention of these, the standard procedure was to dig yourself a hole in the ground and cover yourself with a big piece of canvass or burlap.)

Now, like I said, they don't use these in Australia or Canada. The general thinking, from what I understand, is that the shelters are actually more likely to put firefighters in danger because they create a false sense of safety which encourages firefighters to stay in dangerous conditions longer. I'd be very curious to see if there have been actual studies on this, or if it's all anecdotal. I'll have to look into that as well!

Personally, I think fire shelters are like anything else. They're a tool that you need to fully understand to be able to use correctly and there are some incidents where the use is warranted and helpful, and others where it isn't.

There's other things I find interesting about Australian Wildland Firefighting as well, such as their Mosquito Brigades which are just people with water tanks they can put in the beds of their trucks and they then go out and handle fires around their properties on their own. Personally, I think if you paired that with American Bravado it'd be a recipe for a lot of dead dudes in trucks, but I think there's still things we could learn from it.

I also find it interesting that shelter in place orders for fires happen a lot more in Australia than we see them happening in the U.S.. We did recently see them happen in the Smokehouse Creek Fire in Texas because the fire happened so fast there was no time TO evacuate. It's certainly something we need to study more here, and see how/when/why to apply it.

There's a book that someone on here recommended me (so sorry I can't remember who it was!) called Undefendable: The Story of a Town Under Fire that is about the Black Summer Bushfires of 2019-2020 and is a bunch of personal accounts (including some poetry!) from people who went through those fires. Great book if you want to learn more about such things!


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