News & Media

Mine fire FAQ - 24/2

By: CFA Media

Category: Incidents - Vehicle / Rescue / Hazmat

  6.13 PM 24 February, 2014


Location: General

Views: 4930

Here are the latest frequently asked fire questions and their answers.

How long is this going to go on for?  It’s been going for a while and there’s still lots of smoke and ash – are you really making progress?
Firefighters continue to work around the clock and we’re making good progress in reducing fire activity in the mine as the line scans below show.

We expect this fire to last for at least two more weeks (as of 24 February). Coal mine fires are complex and the Hazelwood open cut mine fire covers a large area and is burning at extreme heats.  Our firefighting efforts are also affected by factors outside of our control, such as wind, rain and carbon monoxide levels.  For instance, we lose time and ground whenever it’s windy or carbon monoxide levels are high. 

Community and firefighter health is our top priority so we’re focusing on reducing the amount of smoke and ash resulting from the fire.  We’re using foam to smother the fire and reduce the smoke.

Why haven’t you evacuated Morwell?  Will you evacuate Morwell?
The emergency services – and other agencies, including EPA and the Department of Health – are prepared for an evacuation should it be needed. Carbon monoxide levels in Morwell would need to reach and stay at a certain trigger point (27 parts per million for eight hours or 420 parts per million for ten minutes) for an evacuation to be considered or actioned.  This has not happened yet and is unlikely to happen – EPA’s highest recorded carbon monoxide reading in Morwell for a one hour period  has been 17.4 parts per million.

Should an evacuation occur:

  • The public will be notified through media like radio and TV and the emergency services’ websites, Twitter and Facebook pages.  Doorknocking may also take place.
  • Relief centre/s will be established and you will be advised of other shelter options.
  • You will be told when it is safe to go home.

What are you doing to put the fire out? 
We’re tackling the fire 24 hours a day in a variety of ways.  These include (as of 24 February):

Hundreds of firefighters and dozens of trucks from around Victoria and interstate.  Each crew spends around two hours focusing on getting the fire under control before being relieved by another crew on a rotating basis. 

Specialist units from  Tasmania and the ACT are using Compressed Air Foam Systems (CAFS) to apply CAFS foam (which requires and uses less water than other foams) to smother the fire and reduce the heat and subsequently the smoke. 

Two large aircraft are regularly waterbombing the site.  Each has the capacity to carry around 3,800 litres of water in a bucket at the end of a 60 metre cable.  They’re picking up water from ponds at the Hazelwood mine and dropping it off around the mine at spots which are difficult for people on the ground to reach because of the heat.

Large fixed and moving pipes and hoses are spraying water onto the batters. 

Observation thermal imagery and forward looking infrared aircraft are being used to gather intelligence and provide advice to the command team.

CFA and MFB pumpers and aerial pumpers are pumping water onto the batters to cool them enough to be able to install reticulation (sprinkler) systems which will free up our mobile resources.

Dozers and excavators are being used to create fire breaks, move pipes, clean areas so the emergency services can access them, and redirect water.

You said you’ve recently started using Compressed Air Foam Systems (CAFS).  Why didn’t you start using foam earlier?
We’re using a variety of equipment and resources to fight the Hazelwood fire and we’re continually reviewing and trialling as we go along. 

Advice and our activities indicate that water is the best way to fight this coal fire but we have been using foam as well as water since the early days of this firefight.  Foam increases the efficiency of water and also smothers smoke.   

We started off using Class A foam (which we continue to use) and have recently also started using compressed air foam which absorbs more heat and provides greater penetration into the Class A fuels (such as coal) that the crews are experiencing at Hazelwood. 

We brought units in from interstate to produce this compressed air foam as swiftly as we could and as soon as a trial showed it worked on the coal fire we put it into use.  Compressed air foam is a relatively new technology – for example, the Tasmanian unit was only completed in December 2013 and has only been deployed three times before its arrival in Hazelwood.  A technical foam advisor has been employed to manage, supply and monitor the performance of this compressed air foam and the systems it uses.

Given how long this has been going and will go – do you have enough resources to fight this fire?
We have all the trucks and people we need to fight this fire, and we have additional resources ready to go any time they’re required. 

We’re operating on a ‘water in, water out’ policy which means we can only apply a certain amount of water without overloading the water management and critical firefighting infrastructure in the mine.  We also need to protect critical infrastructure that supports the community and the operations of the mine.  So any additional resources would not benefit the firefight.

The safety and wellbeing of our people is the top priority.  Local firefighters and incident and emergency management teams are being rotated regularly and supported by other Victorian and interstate resources – both people and equipment. 

We are carefully protecting, monitoring and managing the health of everyone on the fireground. Breathing apparatus is required and one member from every crew involved in the firefight is required to wear a carbon monoxide monitor which takes readings every 15 minutes.  No-one arrives or leaves the mine without being tested first and the operational fireground workers are being tested at their two hourly rest periods.

Can’t you just flood the mine to stop the fire?
Flooding the mine would halt production at the mine and shut down the Hazelwood Power Station which supplies around a quarter of Victoria’s electricity.  We’re trying to prevent this from happening because the power station is critical to the state’s power supply.  Flooding the mine is simply not an option.

How do we stay informed about the firefight?
Emergency services and other agencies – including EPA, the Department of Health and Latrobe City Council – are working together to keep the community around the Hazelwood open cut mine and surrounding areas as informed about the fire as possible.

Our people are out and about in Morwell and surrounding areas every day at fixed and mobile locations, including the Moe Town Hall respite centre at Albert Street from 9am - 7pm.

People can also stay up to date by checking:

  • www.emergency.vic.gov.au
  • CFA’s mine fire site: http://news.cfa.vic.gov.au/news/latrobe-open-cut-mine-info.html
  • Victorian Bushfire Information Line: 1800 247 667
  • National Relay Service for callers who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech/communication impairment: 1800 555 677
  • CFA Facebook and Twitter
  • The Fire Ready app
  • Their emergency broadcasters: ABC Local Radio, commercial radio and designated community radio stations or SKY NEWS Television.

More information
For more information on smoke and your health visit www.health.vic.gov.au or call NURSE-ON-CALL on 1800 60 60 24.

For more information on air quality visit www.epa.vic.gov.au or call 1300 372 842 (1300 EPA VIC)

For fire information, warnings and advice visit www.emergency.vic.gov.au or call the Victorian Bushfire Information Line on 1800 247 667.  Callers who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech/communication impairment can call the Victorian Bushfire Information Line through the National Relay Service on 1800 555 677.

Last Updated: 25 February 2014