May 05, 2013

Wildfires, Fallout Shelters, and Death

With planning permission and money, you too can have a "bushfire bunker." (Wildfire magazine.)
Paging through the newest issue of Wildfire magazine today, I ran across an article on fire response in the Australian state of Victoria: "How Should We Shelter from Intense Bushfires?"

The Australians seem to go back and forth on the "shelter in place" concept. Sometimes it works, sometimes it is bad advice. But one company is selling "government approved" wildfire safety bunkers.

Apparently an underground bunker gives you enough air supply to breathe while the fire front passes over you. Still, just reading about them kicked up a nightmare-image from my childhood.

My father, in addition to being a US Forest Service district ranger, was also active in Civil Defense volunteer work in the 1960s, the peak of the Cold War. One day he brought home a little paperback book called Fire and the Air War.

Pretty heavy reading for a 10-year-old. It was chiefly about World War II incendiary bombings, urban fire storms, and the like.

The one lesson I took away was that you can have a shelter with excellent blast protection and still end up dead because the fire storm sucked all the oxygen out. (See also the uselessness of sheltering in cellars, etc., during forest fires.) The photo of a dead, unburned German family in their basement shelter said it all.

(By one of those interesting moments of synchronicity, Glenn Reynolds linked to a Daily Mail [not always the most reliable source, I know] article on a Wisconsin family that opened up a 50-year-old Cold War fallout shelter in their backyard, only to find most of the contents well-preserved.)

The Australian bunker builders, however, say their bunkers give a six-hour air supply.  Apparently a forest of eucalypts, etc., burns up more quickly than did Dresden or Coventry.

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