Lieutenant-Colonel Coste, a firefighter from Gard, spent 10 days in Australia with four other French firefighters to help his Australian colleagues fight the violent fires that have destroyed more than 18 million hectares of forest and killed almost 30 people.
It is a unique experience in his career as a firefighter. Lieutenant-Colonel Coste saw with his own eyes the gigantic forest fires that have ravaged Australia for several months.
“A sea of smoke as far as the eye can see”
In an interview, he told France 3 what he saw there. “The first feeling we got was when we arrived at Camberra Airport, the capital, was the smell of smoke. You can feel it in the airport and in the environment in general. It is smoke that is omnipresent and that has penetrated inside buildings.”
Although the Gard firefighter is a regular at forest fires, which can reach several hundred hectares in the department, such as at Générac last July, it is a completely different situation that the fire professional had to face.
“They were fires of several hundred thousand hectares. This represents gigantic surfaces. We’ve never experienced that here in France, it’s very impressive.”
Flying over one of the biggest fires in the Bairnsdale area near Melbourne, Nicolas Coste was able to see the seriousness of the situation.
“From the ground, we had a partial view of these fires, but there, from 1,500 meters high, we saw a sea of smoke as far as the eye can see, and we also saw pyrocumulonimbus, which are dangerous clouds that aggravate the fires.
“We flew over the burned area that runs along the southeast coast, and we covered more than 1,400 kilometres while still flying over the same fire.”
A specialist in the counter-fire technique, Lieutenant-Colonel Coste was able to share his experience but also learn from his colleagues, on the other side of the world.
This technique consists of burning wooded areas before the fire reaches it, so that the fire has nothing to feed it by the time it gets there.
“This technique is used very frequently by our Australian colleagues, especially in the morning, and at night, when the temperature is lower and the humidity higher. It also saves water.”
But this is not without flaws; firefighters are regularly surprised by the ability of the flames to pass over these firebreak zones, in particular because of Australian vegetation which is particularly dry in this season.
Australia is experiencing record temperatures this year, 49 ° C in some areas, with humidity levels up to 7%, so it is very dry, which makes the vegetation extremely vulnerable to forest fires.
“What is striking is the calm and serenity of colleagues and the population”
“In Australia many fires have taken place simultaneously,” explained the Gard firefighter, “with peaks of 200 fires at the same time all over the country. This forces firefighters to make strategic choices, for lack of an unlimited number of firefighters.
“They concentrate their resources in places where there is a risk for the population. You have to be able to agree to let the fire evolve in certain places without fighting it.
“It’s a country used to fighting fires, especially in this season. The population is also very prepared for forest fires. There is an impressive calm and serenity throughout. The first thing that comes to mind is humility and respect for the remarkable work that is done. Colleagues are working hard to deal with these fires, with a lot of commitment and fatigue, too.”
This meeting, adds Nicolas Coste, suggests “new constructive relationship” with Australian firefighters in the future, especially in the pooling of knowledge and experiences.
Source: France 3