Bush Fires at The DISH - 1 December 2004

Bush Fire at The DISH
1 December 2004.

Click on images to see the full-size versions

The bush fires that had been brought under control yesterday, flared up again this afternoon with high winds blowing the fires in the direction of the telescope. Luckily, the winds shifted in time and the fires moved to the north, having come as close as one kilometre to the dish.

All staff were evacuated from the site, with only the Observatory's fire-fighting crews and observers remaining on site. The Observatory fire crew - Brett Preisig, Barry Turner, Tom Lees, Brett Dawson and Ken Reeves - secured the site and assisted the local Rural Fire Service crews and helped save several properties. The site mechanical fitter, Jon Crocker, extended the fire break around the Observatory's western and northern perimeters using the trusty Belarus tracktor. Visitors Centre Manager John Smith and RF Engineer Mal Smith kept watch on our northern perimeter, ready to fight the fire if the observers quarters were threatened. Observatory Administrator Geoff Freeman, remained on site at the Adminstration Building (Opera House) directing the Rural Fire crews to our water supplies for replenishing their tanks. Operations Scientist John Sarkissian with observers Dr Russell Edwards and Alessandro Corongiu, stayed on the dish spotting fires in the surrounding district. The Officer-in-Charge of the Observatory, Dr John Reynolds, co-ordinated activities and assisted the fire fighters.

The Observatory's nearest neighbours suffered a lot of fire damage. The local Rural Fire Services were magnificent and prevented any loss of life or damage to homes. The Observatory's fire crews were quick to assist them in their efforts, with several of our staff working alongside the rural fire service crews.

Just after the wind shifted and the fires moved away from the dish, the telescope was spared being engulfed by the billowing smoke. It's a lucky dish indeed!

A 270 degree panaoramic view from above the azimuth track taken at the height of the fires at approx. 3:30pm.

Below is the view to the West of the dish. Planes were brought in to water bomb the fire front.

Below are views toward the north looking down the "John Bolton Avenue". The flames were clearly visible beyond the observers quarters as the fire front moved toward Alec Town. In the last image of the sequence, spooked kangaroos can be seen in the field fleeing the fires.

The view to the West beyond the Opera House and workshop rooves. Note the flames along the fire front.

The Coobang Rural Fire Service crews (with the Observatory's crew on hand) regularly re-filled their water tanks with the Observatory's water supply, before heading off again to fight the fires.

Just when we thought the worst of the fires were over, the winds picked up again and another outbreak began at the Jelbart's farm to the West.

The Aftermath

When the fires had passed through, all that was left was burnt out wheat fields and smoldering trees, power poles and fence posts.

The old road house on the telescope road was lucky - the fire had come within metres of the house.

The Jelbart's farm was devastated. This field which just hours earlier had wheat ready to be harvested in a day or two was completely blackened. Below, Brett Preisig, leading the Observatory's fire crew, checks with Rodney Jelbart to see what assistance can be rendered. Rodney's house was saved but his crop was lost, as was the case with many other neighbouring landowners. It was ironic that a photograph of Rodney Jelbart harvesting his crop was taken just days earlier and appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of 2nd December (left).

A begrimed John Reynolds standing in the ashes of the former Jelbart wheat field gets an update from Observatory staff.

The Observatory was lucky. The winds shifted direction at just the right moment and no damage was sustained by the Observatory. It was truly remarkable how the fires seemed to skirt around the perimeter of the site. Thanks to the preparation, training and organisation of the Observatory fire crews, we were ready for this eventuality. The long, hot summer ahead sees us prepared and well experienced if it happens again.

Click here to see the report on the previous days fire outbreak at The DISH

Click here to see the report on the aftermath of the fires on 2 December 2004.

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Enquiries: John Sarkissian