Western Victoria’s Firestorm: Dodging Wind Turbines Biggest Battle for Airborne Firefighters

Not only do wind turbines act as the perfect bushfire-starters, their presence precludes the best and safest method of fire-fighting from controlling them: aerial water bombers won’t fly within cooee of these things – experienced pilots have declared that they won’t fly within 3km of a wind turbine, even without the country around them on fire. For a rundown on pilots’ attitudes to flying anywhere near wind farms – see our posts here and here and here.

Starting on Saint Patrick’s Day, 17 March, Western Victoria was set ablaze, with thousands of acres of farming and grazing country razed, sheds and homes destroyed and savage livestock losses.

Here’s an account given by residents who witnessed what happened at AGL’s Macarthur wind farm.

AND STILL THE TURBINES KEPT TURNING!

Saturday 17th March 2018 had been declared a Total Fire Ban day for south-west Victoria, two days ahead, such were the expected dangerous weather conditions our district had been forecast.

This gave all of the south-west district of Victoria the opportunity to prepare for the worst, particularly given the extreme dry we’ve experienced this summer with virtually no summer rain.  The paddocks are tinder dry and any fire has the potential to burn to the coast during conditions of huge winds, high temperature and low relative humidity.

As always, farmers took the usual precautions during this extremely windy Total Fire Ban day – no machinery allowed to operate in the open air, no welding, electric fences turned off etc. However, still the turbines at the Macarthur wind farm kept turning!

After all, wind turbines can catch fire, as their gearboxes can overheat, the oil can ignite and, as we’ve seen particularly on several occasions in South Australia, the fires are so extreme, that the authorities must implement a one kilometre exclusion zone even for firefighters.

No precaution by turning off the turbines was taken by AGL to reduce the danger of fire in this district, all day long. On that horrible Saturday afternoon, it was just “business as usual” for AGL!

To our knowledge, (please AGL correct us if we are not correct) never once since 2012 when Macarthur wind farm began operation, has AGL turned the turbines off on days of Total Fire Ban.

A glance at the Aneroid Energy website showed the turbines at Macarthur wind farm were operating at between 90% and 100 % during Saturday afternoon, 17th March 2018.

Little did anybody know what was still in store for us later that evening.

The evening of Saturday 17th March and early morning of 18th March was an experience the districts of Gerrigerrup, Ripponhurst, and Willatook (and others) will never forget.  These are the three communities on the northern, eastern, southern and western boundaries of the Macarthur wind farm.  These three communities sat and watched helplessly, as the 140 turbines at the Macarthur wind farm kept spinning furiously, at the same time as their properties stood in the possible line of fire of the fastest moving and most devastating wildfire this district has ever experienced.

According to the Country Fire Authority, this fire was far worse than Ash Wednesday.

Power went out in these districts and others, at around 9pm. Without power, many retired to bed early, with no communication and no knowledge of what was about to take place.

At 9.30 pm a huge fire broke out near a blue gum plantation north-west of Gazette, south of Hamilton and west of Penshurst, and north of the Macarthur wind farm.

It raced ferociously at speed of more than 100km/hour, in a south/south easterly direction, gobbling up three homes in its path in the first few minutes.

Terrified farming families got out of bed and began preparing to protect their homes and properties, or leave. This task was even more difficult, stumbling around in the dark, trying to get fire fighting equipment on stand by, finding suitable clothes for fire fighting. We had no warning whatsoever of this fire. We had no power. We had no lights and we had pretty well no mobile phone coverage or communication of any sort.

But, as everybody panicked in such terrifying moments, not knowing where this monster fire was, not knowing what direction it was coming from, still the turbines at the Macarthur wind farm kept turning.

This fire was the fastest moving fire on record here; nobody in the CFA can ever remember such a ferocious beast, racing literally 25 kms, from north of the Macarthur wind farm, down the eastern flank, licking into the property hosting at least 80 of the 145 metre high turbines and taking everything with it, save houses and lives, in its path.

It began at 9.30 pm and was still burning at midnight, and long after, when we finally received our evacuation warnings from the CFA, two hours after the fire had gone through, such was the panic and horrendous speed of this fire.

We stood outside, on ridges or wherever we could, to get a bit of a look as to its position and direction.

What so many commented on, as we were all out there trying to defend our properties, was that still the turbines at the Macarthur wind farm kept turning!

The winds were at 110 km/hour and the blades were racing furiously. The entire sky to the north, east and south-east was like a huge fireball, bright red as far as the eye could see, flames licking here there and everywhere; trees alight, debris and embers flying through the air.

But still there was the silhouette of the turbines of the Macarthur in the foreground, the blades still turning all night long.

At around 1.30 am families began to drive around in the arc of about 130 degrees, on the roads through and to the east and south of the Macarthur wind farm, to try and get a better idea of whether the danger had passed, but it was still on us.  Some of us met on the road in the middle of the wind farm, with turbine blades dangerously racing furiously on all sides of us, north, south, east and west.

We all are so indebted to the courageous efforts of the volunteer fire fighters, our own Country Fire Authority. These brave fire fighters concentrated on saving lives first, then assets and it’s amazing the small number of houses burnt to the ground.

Thank you to our CFA volunteers, our local fire fighters and those from other districts who raced to our aid, at a time when their own properties were also in danger.

Again, the next day, the Aneroid Energy website indicated that the Macarthur wind farm had been powering at least 90% capacity all night, whilst the entire district from north to east to south-east was razed by the worst fire which has ever ravaged this community.

On the one hand, we had the unselfish and courageous behaviour of the volunteer fire fighters, in true country Australian spirit, and on the other AGL continuing to generate power for handsome financial gain, by keeping the turbines turning under desperately dangerous circumstances.

AGL at this time, is still attempting to gain the respect and trust of this same community, the very community, the safety of which it showed total disregard for during these two horrific Total Fire Ban days.

If AGL wants to regain the trust and respect of our community in which they wish to operate, it needs to behave along the lines of the unwritten laws of our community. Forget about bringing in consultants Futureye to woo this community.

AGL must turn the turbines off on days of extreme fire danger, and behave in the same respectful manner in which we all behave here in times of extreme fire danger, united in adversity.

We look out for each other, we protect each other and we care for the wellbeing of the community at times like these.

AGL must not treat these communities with contempt by continuing to operate their wind farm, generating huge amounts of power and financial advantage, placing this community at further risk.

Thursday, 22nd March

This same shocking fire flared up again, very suddenly and without any warning, once again, placing the district in panic again. Many landowners were away from their own farms, helping those whose properties were badly burnt, (several families whom are also badly impacted by the acoustic emissions of the turbines here).

This time the break out was just to the north-eastern boundary of the Macarthur wind farm, possibly within little more than a kilometre from the nearest turbine.

This time there was a howling easterly wind, fanning the fire in the direction of several properties on the northern and eastern boundaries of the Macarthur wind farm. This fast-moving fire was also heading directly toward the wind farm.

Amazingly, as once again we fought to defend our properties, absolutely frightened out of our wits after Saturday/Sunday’s terrifying experience, we noticed that the turbines had been turned off.

Why weren’t the turbines turned off during all those terrifying hours on the previous Saturday evening and Sunday morning when our district was ablaze? – we asked ourselves.

Why did AGL continue to operate the turbines during that ferocious fire, yet turn them off in the extreme danger of this break out on Thursday?

Later we were informed by local families, that the turbines had been turned off in order that the large helicopter quickly brought in to water bomb the fire, could quickly fill at the extremely large dam in the middle of the wind farm. Obviously, all the small dams surrounding had been pretty well drained by tankers all around the district fighting the fires on the Saturday evening.

Fortunately this helicopter and at least two other aircraft successfully extinguished what had the potential to be a larger more damaging fire than the one which had already burnt out nearly 4000 hectares on Saturday night.

But, had the turbines not been turned off for several hours, this dangerous fire would have burnt right through the entire wind farm and raced toward the coast, through Willatook, the area where AGL plan to become involved with yet another massive wind farm, taking with it at least four properties to the north of the wind farm also.

For years wind farm developers, in response to landowners real fears, have attempted to appease neighbouring farmers fears with their “spin” that aerial fire fighting would not be restricted due to the presence of turbines.

If this was the case here last Thursday, why were the turbines turned off for the helicopter to fly through the turbines to get water from the dam in the middle of the wind farm?

Why didn’t the helicopter just fly through the myriad of turbines, as we’ve all been told for years previously by the wind farm developers, would be possible for fire fighting ?

For all those fearing their right to protection from fire will be severely diminished by the presence of a wind farm, don’t believe a word the developers say.

Last Thursday’s (we are told) forced shut down of turbines at Macarthur wind farm demonstrates without doubt, that aerial firefighting is most definitely affected by the close proximity of massive wind turbines.

As we write this piece, on the afternoon of Sunday, 25th March 2018, again our district is experiencing unbelievable gale force winds. But, once again, it’s just “business as usual” for AGL. Still the turbines keep turning furiously.

This account is put together the long-time residents of Gerrigerrup, Ripponhurst and Willatook, living next to or near AGL’s 140 3MW Vestas V112s; residents whose families and farming properties are far from “out of the woods” from danger of bushfire this season.

These fires are still smouldering, particularly in rocky country, where the peat will smoulder and could ignite again for many weeks until we receive a huge downpour of one or two inches of rain, as our “autumn break”.

We are telling our story because we believe our already endangered safety on Saturday night was further compromised by the turbines at the Macarthur wind farm not being turned off as a precaution.

We also are of the opinion the fact the turbines had to be turned off, apparently to allow the helicopter into the dam on Moyne Falls to fill quickly to continue water bombing on Thursday, just shows that aerial fire fighting definitely is inhibited by wind turbines continuing to operate in times of wildfire.

Next time, will AGL act as the good community citizens they claim to be, and turn the turbines off on days of extremely high winds, high temperatures or low humidity, (or all three) being a dangerous cocktail for disaster?

Gerrigerrup, Ripponhurst and Willatook Residents
25 March 2018

There have been at least 4 bushfires started by wind turbines in Australia, so far:

  • Ten Mile Lagoon in Western Australia in the mid-1990s;
  • Lake Bonney, Millicent (SA) in January 2006 (see the photo above);
  • Cathedral Rocks Wind Farm, Port Lincoln (SA) in February 2009; and
  • Starfish Hill (SA) in November 2010 (see this link for more detail).

And the sloppily constructed power transmission infrastructure surrounding wind farms has triggered at least one furious blaze in NSW: Wind Farm Neighbours Burnt Out by Bushfire Sparked by Infigen Pursue $Millions in NSW Supreme Court

The savagery of an Australian bushfire is serious enough; and the threat that one of these whirling wonders might self-immolate and spark a countrywide conflagration, is real enough.

However, it’s the threat that random clusters of 140m high turbines with 60m blades pose to aerial firefighters that caught the attention of another community threatened by Victoria’s Saint Patrick’s Day bushfires.

STT has already reported on the fight to retain Cobden’s airfield, under threat from a proposal to spear turbines all around it: Fighting for Air: Communities Rally to Stop Wind Projects Wrecking Local Airports

Now, after aerial firefighters saved the day taking off from Cobden, that wholly unnecessary threat is all the more real.

St Patrick’s Day fires highlight importance of Cobden airport amid wind farm fears
The Standard
Kate Zwagerman
28 March 2018

Cobden’s: Jan O’Connell, Eunie Dawe, Paul Moloney,
Warren Ponting, Helen Watts and Stan Williams

 

Cobden’s airport is playing a vital role in firefighting efforts, proof that it needs to be protected from a potential wind farm development, its supporters say.

The airport became a base for firefighting aircraft as the St Patrick’s Day fires raged and crews continue to battle peat fires.

Speaking at the Corangamite Shire meeting on Tuesday, councillor Neil Trotter said he counted four helicopters and a fixed-wing aircraft at the airport on Tuesday morning, while the aero club’s clubrooms were also being used as a base for emergency services.

“This tragedy for our community has highlighted the value of our airstrip,” he said.

“Blind Freddy can see what this facility means to this district. The Minister should… give this community the reassurance that this vital asset is not under threat.”

The Planning Minister has yet to rule on plans for a 12-turbine wind farm at Naroghid. The $100 million project would place 180-metre-high turbines within about 2.5 kilometres of the air strip.

Cobden Aero Club’s Duncan Morris said the current situation highlighted the need to keep up the fight to save the strip.

“I’ve absolutely no doubt that if the wind farm was already there… this (use of the strip) would have been severely limited, if not impossible,” he said.

“If the wind farm proposal goes ahead the airport would most certainly close… and the facility would not be available in the event of any similar fires in the future.”

Mayor Jo Beard said emergency services using the airport were full of praise for the facility.

“We’re seeing what a difference it can make to not only this community but across the region. You never know when it’s going to be needed,” she said.

In praising the community’s response to the St Patrick’s Day fires, Cr Ruth Gstrein said the disaster demonstrated the importance of retaining the air strip.

“What this has highlighted is the need to preserve the Cobden air strip as it is right now,” she said.

“If we ever needed a clear demonstration on why Cobden needs an airstrip we have it and we continue to see it today.”
The Standard

This little life saver needs plenty of room to move.

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. swan101 says:

    Reblogged this on UPPER SONACHAN WIND FARM and commented:
    ….And for Scotland – we have turbines within Forestry plantations and in isolated areas where, should a turbine fire start a similar conflagration – at night or in poor visibility conditions, it doesn’t take much imagination to appreciate the likely consequences. I am told that there is currently no obligation for developers to install CCTV on every turbine. Fire departments are already unable to tackle many fires where there are no access roads, so allow them to ‘burn out.’ So those of us living within or adjacent to such areas have good reason to question the wisdom of the current consenting policy. Will it take deaths to underline the folly?

  2. Pilot concerns about the use of helicopters and fixed wing aircraft in proximity to wind turbines are completely justified.  Firstly there is the obvious danger of direct collision with towers or massive blades that sweep an area larger than a rugby pitch.  Secondly there is the more insidious danger to aircraft created by wake turbulence down wind of these machines.  Wake turbulence is an invisible trail of disturbed air often extending for more than a  kilometre downwind of operating turbines, it can cause an aircraft flying into it to loose control with fatal consequences.  Unusual weather conditions sometimes allow the wake to be seen such as here, but this is rare, normally it is an unseen death trap for light aircraft.  Wind turbines and airfields definitely do not mix!
    Helicopter rotor downwash is sometimes used to dry out wet sports fields, it is also used to prevent the formation of frost in vineyards.

    • Not what Hannah Coffey of AGL is telling us very concerned neighbours. When we got wind change on St Pats day the fire seemed to move very quickly and was right in middle of the turbine layout, so would have had all 140 turbines pushing it. Luckily it was just north of Hawkesdale. Another 5 minutes and it would have gone through Hawkesdale.

  3. The esteemed wind farm commisioner told us they put the blades in rabbit ear formation and the South Australian pilots will fly between them. What a load of rubbish. They soon turned them off, with SA’s crisis last year to they sorted out their story. If Hazelwood had been off then Victoria would have gone out as well. AGL’s ad makes me cringe with all their bs and disregard for all neighbors, especially boundry neighbors.

  4. Trouble is guys, in common with all rural Australians, if you don’t vote in Northcote or Wentworth… unfortunately to the LaborLite Turnbullite regime or the Shorten/CFMEU axis you’re just collateral damage (road kill) when it comes to the furtherance of their base political agendas.
    Sad but that’s the reality!

  5. Michael Crawford says:

    There are now a substantial number of research publications showing that wind farms tend to raise ground temperatures for kms downwind, especially night time temperatures.

    Farmers with frost-sensitive crops have for years used much smaller fans to do the same thing.

    That leads to the obvious question of what is the effect on Australian grasslands if night-time ground temperatures are raised? For instance, may it increase fuel loads during spring (some research shows increased crop yields) and then reduce morning fuel moisture (making it more fire prone) in summer.

    Our fire authorities appear to be blissfully uninterested in the matter as a recent GIPA request to the NSW RFS has shown they have no relevant analysis.

    Perhaps there is no significant effect and perhaps there is. A fire authority can’t know unless the analysis is done drawing on the research that has been published over the last decade. Failure to obtain the analysis is reckless indifference to public safety perhaps motivated by a desire to not offend ministers and bureaucrats with particular ideologies.

  6. Reblogged this on Climatism.

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