Tasmanians brace for extreme heat on sixth anniversary of Dunalley fire tragedy



January 04, 2019 05:23:09

With temperatures expected to reach the mid-to-high 30’s, Tasmanians are in for a scorcher on a day when many look back to the devastating Dunalley fire of 2013 which sent shockwaves around the state.

Key points:

  • People susceptible to heat stroke are advised to seek shelter and stay hydrated
  • No fire can be lit anywhere in the eastern half of Tasmania, with elsewhere by permit only
  • Despite the high temperatures, today is not expected to break a record of 42.2C set in 2009

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has forecast a state maximum of 39 degrees Celsius in Brighton and Campania in the south and a top of 36 degrees in Hobart, with fire danger rated across the state as being between high and severe.

Senior forecaster Luke Johnston said there would be a cooler change in the afternoon, with the bureau predicting a possible storm.

“It’ll move through Hobart about 2:00pm and gradually move up the east coast,” he said.

“We don’t see many days in January, especially for Hobart, where temperatures get into the high 30s.”

Despite the BOM officially rating most of Tasmania as being in the grip of a low-intensity heatwave, today’s high temperatures are not expected to break records, with the mercury hitting 42.2 degrees in Scamander on the east coast in January 2009.

Hobart’s record was 41.8 degrees on this day five years ago, and last year Campania reached 39.6 degrees in January.

The Tasmanian Fire Service has declared a total fire ban for the eastern half of the state, meaning the public will not be allowed to light a fire or allow a fire to remain alight in the open air until 2:00am tomorrow.

In the north, the ban covers Meander Valley, Tamar Valley, Break O’Day, Northern Midlands, George Town, Dorset and Launceston.

In the south, Brighton, Central Highlands, Clarence, Derwent Valley, Glamorgan-Spring Bay, Glenorchy, Hobart, Huon Valley, Kingborough, Sorell, Southern Midlands and Tasman are under the ban.

The BOM said the Upper Derwent Valley and the south-east of Tasmania are facing severe fire danger conditions, and parts of the south-east could be upgraded to extreme.

Authorities have been fighting a large number of bushfires around the state during the past week.

A fire in Tasmania’s south-west wilderness has burned through more than 2,500 hectares and forced the evacuation of bushwalkers in the area.

Dunalley fire a game-changer

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the Dunalley bushfires of 2013, in which hundreds of homes and properties were destroyed with incredible tales of survival arising from the disaster — including that of five children who sheltered from the fire huddled underneath a wooden jetty, kept afloat in the neck-deep water by their grandparents for hours.

The was believed to have originated from an unextinguished campfire near Forcett. Investigators later concluded smouldering embers sparked a fire nearly a week later which went on to force the evacuation of almost 4,000 people and damage or destroy around 100 properties in Dunalley and surrounding areas.

The blaze would go on to be examined at an inquiry which found serious flaws in the handling of the crisis, and that police and the fire service were ill-prepared for a major emergency.

It also found communication networks were inadequate and there was confusion about who was in charge at the time.

Heat warning for humans and pets

Ahead of today’s heatwave, Tasmania’s Director of Public Health Dr Mark Veitch cautioned young children, the elderly and those with medical conditions were most at risk of heat-related illnesses.

“The sort of illnesses that can occur from heat are dehydration where people get thirsty, flushed and a bit dizzy,” he said. “It can range through to heat cramps where people get muscle cramps from activity in the heat.

“They can develop heat stress or even heat stroke and in those circumstances they’ll probably be behaving abnormally, they may be confused, they’ll be very thirsty, they may even stop sweating when they’re extremely dehydrated.”

Dr Veitch said anyone who may be experiencing heat stroke should seek medical advice.

“The best thing people can do to prevent heat-related illness is to stay out of the heat, because it won’t be that many hours when the temperature is high,” he said.

“Stay indoors, avoid activity during the heat of the day and stay hydrated.”

Animals feel the heat too, so pet owners are advised to keep animals out of the direct sun as much as possible.

Owners are urged not to leave dogs in hot cars, and to keep them in areas with shade and lots of water.







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