Heat, winds, and dry lightning: Australia enjoyed an otherwise relatively cool summer that was transformed two weeks ago when the temperature in Melbourne soared to over 109.4 F (43 C) for 3 days (28-30 January, 2009).
A week later the temperature soared to 115.5 F (46.4 C) in Melbourne - about 116.6 F (47 C) and 118 F (47.8 C) at Avalon, the site of Melbourne’s second major passenger jet airport. However this heat wave was associated with strong winds as high as 65 mph that turned fires from thousands of dry lightning strikes and suspected arson into rapidly moving firestorms.
Stay and Defend or leave early: People living adjacent to highly-inflammable Eucalyptus forests to the north and east of Melbourne were advised to have “fire plans” and to decide whether to stay and protect their property or to leave in a timely fashion.
When some finally realized the enormity of what they were facing and what it takes to defend against a firestorm ember attack, and decided to flee it was too late and many were caught in vehicles while trying to escape.
and possibly if they had stayed, prepared properly, and committed to defending and taking shelter in a structure as the firestorms passed many more may have survived.
The driver of this truck survived fleeing the fire, a woman along the road he urged to get into his truck was not seen again, the driver credited the Nomex wildland fire clothing he was wearing for saving his life after he crashed the truck and had to flee through the flames.
Global Climate Emergency: Man made cause or natural cycle the planet is warming, According to Professor John Holdren (Harvard University, former Chairman of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Director of the Woods Hole Research Center, and President Obama’s chief scientific adviser) in a recent lecture entitled “The Science of Climatic Disruption”, forest fires are being exacerbated by drought and elevated temperatures in America and Europe; the annual acres burned in the Western USA have now increased from about 0.5 million (1960-1980) to 2.5- 4.5 million (21st century); and the 14 hottest years on record have been since 1990.  .
According to NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) the global mean surface temperature increase since about 1970 has been about 0.6 oC (the temperature increase since about 1890 has been about 0.8 oC) .  .According to a key 2006 paper in the top journal Science by Dr A.L. Westerling and colleagues.: “We compiled a comprehensive database of large wildfires in western United States forests since 1970 and compared it with hydroclimatic and land-surface data. Here, we show that large wildfire activity increased suddenly and markedly in the mid-1980s, with higher large-wildfire frequency, longer wildfire durations, and longer wildfire seasons. The greatest increases occurred in mid-elevation, Northern Rockies forests, where land-use histories have relatively little effect on fire risks and are strongly associated with increased spring and summer temperatures and an earlier spring snowmelt … We found that the incidence of large wildfires in western forests increased in the mid-1980s (Fig. 1) [hereafter, "wildfires" refers to large-fire events (>400 ha) within forested areas only]. Subsequently, wildfire frequency was nearly four times the average of 1970 to 1986, and the total area burned by these fires was more than six and a half times its previous level”.
. Dr John Holdren (2008), “The Science of Climatic Disruption”: http://www.usclimateaction.org/userfiles/JohnHoldren.pdf .
. NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS): http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/ . See also IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers: http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-spm.pdf and Chapter 5, “Projecting Australian climate change”, The Garnaut Climate Change Review (2008): http://www.garnautreview.org.au/chp5.htm
. A.L. Westerling, H. G. Hidalgo, D. R. Cayan, T. W. Swetnam , Warming and Earlier Spring Increase Western U.S. Forest Wildfire Activity, Science 18 August 2006: Vol. 313. no. 5789, pp. 940 - 943
(DOI: 10.1126/science.1128834; see: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/313/5789/940 ).