Sunday, December 31, 2006

The 'planners' are at it again!

I've complained several times before about the bad planning, or lack of planning, that Dubai suffers from.

Here's another example, buried away in the Gulf News Business Section lead story by Robert Ditcham. Headed 'No rent relief in 2007' the story explains that construction delays on major projects mean that demand will continue to outstrip supply for a long time to come.

More than halfway into the story is reference to Jumeirah Beach Residence, the world's single largest residential development apparently. This year was hand-over time, but now it's 'the first quarter of next year.' Why?

The report says: "...a series of adjustments to the infrastructure plan has put back delivery."


Why do they need to 'adjust' the infrastructure plan? Why wasn't it worked out professionally and correctly in the first place?

The roads obviously won't cope, that's apparent to anyone who simply stands and looks at the number of towers & apartments and then at the road system. One is much bigger than the other - guess which.

It also looks as though there won't be anywhere near enough parking space. Yet again.

Both those problems are endemic to Dubai thanks to the incompetence of our 'planners'. Is that what needs 'adjusting' now, or have they discovered, at this late stage, something else the 'planners' didn't correctly plan for.

No rent relief in 2007

The good ol' days. Part 5

Time to post some more old photos, which I took back in the late seventies/early eighties. Some, inevitably, horribly faded I'm afraid.

This time, the Creek:

Notice the natural sandy bank on this one, across in Bur Dubai.

Deira, along from the Inter.Continental Hotel - now the Radisson of course.

Deira, down by the spice souk.

We still had plenty of fishermen in the heart of Deira.

Previous posts of old photos are here:

Part 1,

Part 2,

Part 3,

Part 4.

Parking the Dubai way.

Traffic authority honours parking inspectors

Compiled from WAM and staff reports

Dubai: The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has honoured parking inspectors.

Sultan Al Kutbi, Director of Road Fees and Parking Department at the Traffic and Roads Agency, said during the ceremony which saw the distribution of certificates of appreciation to the awardees, that honouring staff will help develop human resources and promote their career.

He said the RTA is working to raise the productivity of the individuals and to push them towards more excellence, innovation and self-improvement.

Gulf News. December31, 2006

I didn't realise we had any parking inspectors. It seems we do, though, and the RTA is working to raise their productivity.

I think I can help with that.

My innovative suggestion is that they patrol around the streets. Anywhere in Dubai will do - I took these photos yesterday in Dubai Marina...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Vehicles & population - interesting statistics

Some illuminating figures have been published in the last week, relating to vehicles and the workforce.

The Roads & Transport Authority report that vehicle registrations in Dubai now exceed 700,000.

Some are buses and trucks, and taxis of course, but I think it's fair to assume the majority would be private cars.

Population is 1.37 million.

But...55% of the workforce earns less than Dh3,000 a month, so they won't own cars. Maybe even many earning between Dh3,000 and Dh5,000 a month won't own cars, and that's 14%.

So that leaves about 30% of the population, which is about 411,000, who can afford to buy and run a car.

It's an awful lot of vehicles per head of population - no wonder the roads can't cope.

Registered vehicles top 700,000

Results of labour force survey

Sunday, December 24, 2006

To everyone who drops by...




Thursday, December 21, 2006

It's not only in Dubai...

Australia has some spectacular crashes too.

A Ferrari 360 Spyder outside a Perth pub. He'd owned the car for a month, had a drink or two... and then much to the amusement of the pub customers...

Photo from Sydney Morning Herald

Crunch time for $300,000 Ferrari.

I despair...

Mother, son charged with Gippsland arson

Michael Davis and AAP
December 21, 2006

POLICE have charged a mother and her teenage son with arson over a bushfire that raged through Gippsland last week as firefighters continue to battle blazes around the state.

The pair -- a 29-year-old and a 15-year-old -- have been charged with deliberately lighting a fire at Driffield last week.

The arrests came as the two major firefronts tonight centre on the snow region of Mt Buller in the state's north east and parts of Gippsland, south east of Melbourne.

With temperatures well above 30C today, the firefighters and residents are bracing for strong winds hitting the fire areas and propellng the blazes later tonight.

The report is here.

More on dangerous bus drivers.

Just to add to my post about bus drivers, the radio is reporting another bus crash on Sheikh Zayed Road this morning. I don't have any more details - I'll update this post when info comes through.

Meanwhile, to reinforce my point that last week's horror crash could have been much, much worse, here's the photo again. The bus ended up across the three fast lanes of the opposite carriageway, having smashed through the safety fence and central reservation. This is a 120kph zone, and of course many drivers are going much faster than that. If the word 'luck' can be used in this context, it was lucky that only one vehicle smashed into the roof of the bus.

Photo: Tracy Brand/Gulf News

The photo also perfectly demonstrates another complaint I have about police procedures.

Notice how the traffic has come right up to the scene before being diverted around it. The police never put warnings and diversions in place far enough from the scene. That's downright dangerous and it creates worse traffic congestion.

I'll do a separate posting about that I think.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bus driver problem needs urgent attention.

I've been meaning for ages to write about the appalling standard of driving of one particular group in Dubai - bus drivers.

I'm prompted to do it now by two events. The horrific fatal crash last week and the report in yesterday's Gulf News that labour transport drivers race each other for cash.

The crash was no surprise to me, my surprise is that it hasn't happened before this and doesn't happen much more frequently.

On reflection the Gulf News report is no surprise either, but that was specifically about labour transport drivers. The other bus drivers are just as bad.

I do most of my driving around 'New Dubai', where the vast development is taking place and where thousands of people now work. This includes driving on Sheikh Zayed Road, to Jebel Ali, around the Media/Internet/Knowledge Free Zone and around Dubai Marina.

This means I see not only the labour buses but also the private bus companies plus the Dubai-Abu Dhabi public express bus.

They terrify me!

Forget all the other groups that people write to the papers about, bad as they are. That includes construction truck drivers, expat women in 2-tonne 4X4s, BMW drivers, sub-Continentals, blacked out black 4X4s and every other grouping people complain about. As a group, bus drivers are without doubt the most dangerous.

As an example, on SZR to Jebel Ali I had a private bus millimetres off my tail while he was playing on his mobile phone - texting I assume. Later in Knowledge Village, another screaming round a roundabout almost on two wheels. A couple of days ago the Dubai-Abu Dhabi bus hurtled past me on SZR, near Ibn Battuta Mall, and I was on the speed limit of 120km.

I see this kind of stuff literally every day. And they all have passengers in their buses. Absolutely no regard for human life, for the rules of the road, absolutely no common sense and no intelligence.

Apart from the obvious steps, that we don't have, of adequate training, literacy tests, severe driving tests that are difficult to pass, there's another obvious fault in the system. There are no police.

Like anyone on Dubai's roads, I see these morons throughout the day every day. What I don't see are highway patrols. I no longer see the motorcycle cops - I used to see them everywhere in the old days. If we had enough traffic police for the amount of roads, the amount of traffic, they would also see what we see and maybe then we'd get these homicidal maniacs off the roads.

And please let's have a focus on bus drivers. They are responsible for fifty or more passengers, helpless in the back of the bus without even a seatbelt.

That's without the other road users, such as the mini-bus driver killed last week when the labour bus smashed through the safety barrier into his path.

That accident was carnage...but it could have been so much worse.

Just consider there were over 50 passengers in the bus and only the mini-bus ran into it after it crossed the central reservation. It could have wiped out traffic on its own side of the highway (it was racing another bus remember). It could have been hit by more than one vehicle once it was across on-coming traffic; it ended up across the three outside (fast) lanes. Heaven forbid, there could have been a hundred dead in that one crash.

This is critically urgent. The police and the RTA must take action on bus drivers.

Labour bus drivers use roads 'as race tracks'

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What an indictment (cont'd)

A couple of weeks ago I posted a letter which was sent to Gulf News from an American thanking the UAE for sending aid to them. It reads in part:

"I am a heart patient who receives treatment at a small local clinic for people without insurance. At my last visit, I was handed a pamphlet that told me my visit was being paid for by a gift from your nation."

I made the point that the US has so many negative aspects of its own society it should be looking at when I said: It's yet another example of the need to look very seriously at the standards of their own society rather than believe that they should impose it on the rest of the world.

I've just been reading an article in The Guardian which highlights yet another huge failure by successive American governments.

Over 10% of the population of what is by far the world's richest country are, in bureaucracy-speak, "food insecure"

The official explanation of that is "limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways." In English that means those who can’t afford a basic diet on a regular basis. The figures do not include homeless people, who could be expected to be even worse off.

In a 2004 survey by the US Dept of Agriculture, out of 112 million households, 11.9 million were deemed ‘food insecure’. What an astonishing fact. In the world's richest country over 30 million people can't afford to eat properly!

And far from tackling the problem, the situation is worsening. The 'food insecure' went up from 10.5% in 2000 to 11.9% in 2004. And digging deeper into the figures, those ' with hunger' was 3.1% in 2000 which went up to 3.9% in 2004.

It gets worse. The report looked at child poverty, by race. The figures?

% by race living below poverty line

Black 33.3% Hispanic 28.6% White 14.2% Asian/Pacific Islanders 9.5%

There's disparity, but everyone's affected. And again, what astonishing figures.

Very many Americans sincerely believe they have the world's best society and believe that the rest of the world envies them. Remember when he was here, President George HW Bush, defending his son's actions in response to criticism, said: "How come everybody wants to come to the United States if the United States is so bad?"

'Everyone' Mr President? Not on your life. But it shows the mind-set doesn't it.

Given the vast wealth, the technologically advanced society, these things should be utterly unacceptable to the citizens and their governments. Yet we hear very little internal criticism, no radical movements pressurising for change.

We do hear a lot about how the rest of the world should change to a society that's a copy of America's.

In fact it's the other way round. America needs to learn from and adopt policies from other countries around the world. Its society has huge problems that need fixing.

The Guardian report

President George HW Bush's comments

My earlier posting/Thank You letter

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The tragedies...

Cooler weather, and even some rain, over many of the fires has meant that there's been a temporary reprieve.

For some.

Every fire leaves tragedies, from lost homes & belongings to lives lost and animals killed in their thousands.Today's news reports start to tell some of the stories from the fires in Victoria and Tasmania.

Firefighters caught in blaze.

A number of New Zealand firefighters have been injured while battling blazes on campsites north of Melbourne.

One has critical burns, four suffered burns and smoke inhalation while another suffered smoke inhalation.

Fire victim was helping a mate protect his home.

DONALD Dosser, the man who was killed defending a mate's home from fire, has been described as a "real mate who helped anyone who was in trouble".

Mr Dosser, 48, of Longford, died on Thursday while protecting a property at Seaton.

Gutted residents will stay and rebuild.

AS GRAHAM Harker rushed from work to his burning Stoney Creek home, knocking over fences and racing through charred paddocks, the glare coming from where he used to live was almost too much to bear.

"I got to the gate and all I could see here was flames coming out of the doors and the windows and great columns of smoke." They have little left, apart from their car, some clothes and photo albums and their dogs, Bob and Brandy.

Theirs was one of 11 houses razed in the Toongabbie district on Thursday afternoon.

In Cowwarr, concrete stumps, twisted corrugated iron and rubble are all that is left of Alex Krstic's three-bedroom weatherboard house. No possessions were saved. All Mr Krstic, his wife, Lynda, and 13-year-old daughter, Shelby, have are the clothes they were wearing.

And when everyone living in Australia knows exactly what bushfires mean, this is just incomprehensible to me:

Police want to question teenagers.

POLICE were last night searching for two teenagers over a fire that began at Coopers Creek, south-east of Erica, that led to the death of a Longford man and the loss of several houses.

And this is what we all know bushfires mean:

An apocalyptic sky descends over Bairnsdale, south Gippsland,
early on Thursday afternoon, growing darker, and scarier,
as the day wore on, The nearest fires were still at least 30kms away.
Photo: Ahren Morris/The Age

Street lights and headlights come on in Bairnsdale yesterday - at 2pm.
Photo: Natalie Fisher/The Age

Lynda and Alex Krstic tried to defend their Cowwarr house but lost it and all their
possessions when they had to flee the fires.
Photo: Paul Rovere/The Age

Homes were destroyed in the Gippsland area when fire raced through late
Thursday afternoon. Photo. Jason South/The Age

This would have been full of wildlife.
Photo. Jason South/The Age

Firefighters caught in blaze

Fire victim was helping a mate protect his home

Gutted residents will stay and rebuild

Police want to question teenagers

Thursday, December 14, 2006

We need this here...

The headline in today's London Guardian newspaper:

Motorists risk jail for using phones in car

Stiffer sentences proposed for jumping lights, tailgating and causing death

Motorists who use mobile phones and tailgate other cars could be jailed under a tough new package of measures unveiled yesterday, aimed at stamping out bad habits. Drivers who kill on the roads are also more likely to face charges of manslaughter, instead of the lesser charge of death by dangerous driving, as part of plans by the Crown Prosecution Service.

Behaviour for which drivers could be jailed for dangerous driving, rather than careless driving, include using a hand-held mobile on the move, tailgating, tuning a car radio, overtaking on the inside, running a red light, or emerging from a side road into the path of another vehicle.

In Dubai we have three times the deaths of the UK relative to population - we have 19 they have 6 per 100,000 population - and we have that list of offences and more.

So, RTA, police, government - how about it?

Horror crash on Sheikh Zayed Road

One of the worst yet. Radio gave sketchy information early morning, Gulf News is now reporting this:

Nine dead, more than fifty injured.

At least nine people have been killed after an accident involving three buses on the Shaikh Zayed Road this morning.

Photo.Tracy Brand/Gulf News

More than 50 people were also injured in the crash, which happened after a minivan collided with a bus on the Abu Dhabi bound carriageway of the Shaikh Zayed Road at around 7.30am. It is believed another bus was also involved in the crash, which happened near the Mall of the Emirates.

All three buses were carrying labourers.

The Rashid Hospital trauma unit said at least five people were seriously hurt, with more than 50 people injured in total.The dead men are believed to be Chinese and Indian.

Helicopters were called to the scene to transport the injured to hospitals across the city.Traffic tailed back for several kilometers as the emergency services had to cut people free from the wreckage.

Gulf News

This morning's radio reports said rubberneckers were causing more problems, with people even stopping their cars in the road to get out and look. Then they said as a result there was an accident on the other carriageway.

No surprise there then, that happens with every incident. I guess the police were too busy with the carnage to arrest the morons. Let's hope the cameras caught their details and, with any luck, they'll have their licences and cars taken away.

It's bad...


One home lost as residents flee

ONE house has been lost and several other buildings gutted as bushfires tore through the beachside hamlet of Four Mile Creek this afternoon.

Residents were forced to flee to the beach about 3pm after what some described as "a fireball" jumped containment lines and raced towards the sea.

Others were stopped at police roadblocks north and south of the village as massive gusts of smoke blackened the air above their homes.

Smoke was so thick drivers could not see their own car bonnets, while the energy draw of the massive firestorm turned the wind into a roaring force.

Those who had planned to stay and defend their homes were advised to stick to their plans, but those who wanted to leave were advised to head for the beach.

"When the fire hit Four Mile Creek it came in a rush and it was too late for people to get out by road," said Mr Reid.

Earlier the fire went through the nearby town of Cornwall. Fire rushed the village just after 1pm after a predicted westerly wind change took hold.

An ABC reporter in Cornwall said firefighters had managed to save three or four homes in the path of "a great wall of fire''.

"They just stood in the flames with hoses and not a lot more,'' she said.

I've said it before and I'll repeat it - these men & women are heroes.

The east coast bushfire has burnt through 14,200 hectares since Sunday and exhausted firefighters are struggling to contain the 80-kilometre perimeter.


It's just like Armageddon

Horror fire conditions have seen fires rage out of control this afternoon, jumping containment lines and launching ember attacks at populated areas.

URGENT THREAT: Fernbank, Glenaladale, Kevington, Gaffneys Creek, A1 Mine and Woods Point. Jamieson district, including Burns Bridge.

ON ALERT: North East: Howqua River Road area, Mount Beauty and Bogong townships. Gippsland: Glencairn, areas north of Valencia Creek and east to Culloden, Castleburn, Dargo, Briagolong and Crooked River.

NEWS UPDATE: Houses threatened and two schools evacuated at Drysdale, near Geelong.

CFA deputy chief officer Graham Fountain told The Age:

"The fires have jumped containment lines, they've spotted, there's been ember attacks in a number of areas. There is a risk of that (buildings being lost), these are populated areas.''

Towns under threat:

Residents in Fernbank, Glenaladale, Kevington, Licola, Gaffney's Creek and A1 Mine have been issued with urgent threat messages, while those in Merrijig , Mt Buller, Sawmill Settlement and Woods Point are being urged to remain alert.

The towns of Dargo, Crooked River, Castleburn, Waterford and Cobbannah that may come under threat as winds shift north to north-easterly.

Glenmaggie, Valencia Creek, Briagalong and Heyfield are advised to remain on high alert with the expected northerly wind change.

New South Wales:

Major fire breaks containment

A MAJOR bushfire has broken containment lines overnight and is threatening properties in rugged high country near Tumut in southern NSW.

Authorities say the blaze burning out of control in the Bondo pine plantation, is igniting spot fires ahead of its front. The fire has burnt out about 13,000ha of pine plantation.

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) has advised people in Argalong and the Upper Goobragandra River Valley to prepare for ember attacks.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The thin yellow line.

STRUGGLE: Worried residents watch as firefighters
battle flames away from their house on the edge of
Scamander yesterday.

From Tasmania's 'Mercury' newspaper, an uncredited photo taken in Scamander sums the situation up.

People prepare their homes, making them as fire-resistant as possible. Then, you do as one resident describes: A little way into St Marys Pass -- still closed even to fire trucks because of burning trees and power poles -- Linda Watts did not know where the fire was.

She had her three children ready to "grab the clothes, grab the dogs and get into the car".

The paper reports an awful lot of damage for a town of around 600 people:

Firefighters estimated Scamander's losses at 13 homes, an art gallery, a jewellery business, an electrical business, 24 large workshops, a caravan and a wrecking yard including 70 vehicles.

About 120 personnel were fighting the fire in rotation around the clock late yesterday, aided by 40 trucks, four bulldozers and four helicopters.

Meanwhile, a fire burning for the past 10 days on the lower East Coast also remains out of control.

The blaze at Kellevie, near Bream Creek, has burned 8000ha and remains a threat to homes.

About 90 firefighters, six bulldozers and three helicopters are battling the blaze.

Residents of Nugent, Twamley and Wielangta were last night advised to remain vigilant in preparation for today's weather conditions.

At least another 18 fires were also burning around the state late yesterday, affecting other East Coast locations.

The Tasmania Fire Service warned that northeasterly winds up to 50km/h would increase fire activity through the night, encouraging what has become the state's worst fire in 25 years.

By 2pm the man in charge of defending St Marys, division commander Andrew Skelly, was sure of the fire's threat.

"It is going to get hairy," he said. "It's going to happen sooner or later, whether it's this afternoon or tomorrow.

"We are going to have a fire of biblical proportions."

Dire weather predictions expected.

The worst is yet to come...

Tasmania's fires are still burning out of control. Two of the biggest Victorian fires merged into one overnight, creating a mega-fire that stretches on a front of about 120km.

More than 400,000 hectares, a million acres, have burnt in Victoria and the worst is yet to come. High winds and hot temperatures will return tomorrow to fan the fires, with now 4,000 exhausted firefighters battling them. More than 400 firefighters have been injured.

Spokesman Kevin Monk said tomorrow would pose the biggest test for firefighters and communities since the weekend's extreme fire weather. “The weather forecast is for north-westerly winds over these fires, and building up in strength to 30 to 40 kilometres (per hour),” he said. Temperatures are forecast to be over 40C with low humidity. That's extreme fire weather.

Metropolitan Melbourne has a severe air quality health alert because of thick smoke. Australia has one of the world's highest percentages of people with asthma, and the air pollution will have bad consequences.

In Tasmania:

Towns at risk as fire changes course

December 13, 2006

TWO towns on Tasmania's northeast coast were placed on high alert last night after a bushfire that destroyed 18 homes in the sleepy surf village of Scamander switched direction.

Residents in Irish Town and St Marys, which are inland and south of Scamander, were battling smoke that had reduced visibility to just metres.

Shane Garwood and Ann Jetson, in Scamander yesterday, pick
through the ruins of the home they were soon to move into.
Picture: David Crosling

From an article on mega-fires which gives some idea of what the firefighting heroes are facing.

An unstoppable force

It goes off like an atomic bomb.

"You are talking about megawatts of energy," explains Rod Incoll, a fire risk management consultant. "It is a nuclear release of energy out of these so-called mega-fires. It is a title that leads one to exaggerate, but it is probably a fair description."

Mega-fires are typically formed from several fires, covering a huge area. They exhibit complex behaviour, create their own weather and are well beyond the most sophisticated attempts to control them.

They occur most frequently on the bush-urban interface, leaving in their wake total destruction of plant and animal life. These fires can pollute water supplies with ash and in subsequent years fill waterways with soil and gravel. Regenerating trees suck up rainfall, reducing water supplies for up to 50 years. Mega-fires also have the capacity to wreak permanent damage.

Some of the stories:

Animals probably won't make it.

Man charged with lighting Perth bushfire. Bastard!!

Towns at risk as fire changes course.

Residents await 'monster' fire.

Scamander faces regret and ruin.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

False hope...

Yesterday's hope for relief from the bushfires seems to have been wishful thinking.

Hobart Mercury photo.

Victorian fires merge to create giant front

December 12, 2006

FIREFIGHTER'S worst fears have been realised, with two bushfires burning in Gippsland and Victoria's north-east believed to have joined overnight, forming one massive firefront.

The head of the blaze is estimated to span 240km in length.

Together the bushfires have scorched about 250,000 hectares and continue to burn out of control.

Tasmanian town in the line of fire

December 12, 2006

A TOWN in Tasmania's north-east is under imminent threat from a bushfire, with the active front less than a kilometre away.

The fire which razed at least 14 homes in Scamanda overnight had changed direction due to a wind change and was advancing on St Marys, a Tasmania Fire Service spokesman told AAP.

“Visibility in St Marys is down to about a metre,” spokesman Danny Reid. “When I talked to the incident controller just before lunch, he estimated it was about a kilometre from St Marys, so it won't be long before the town is starting to feel the impact of the fire.”

Here's what happened yesterday when the fire went through Scamander:

And now, way across in the west:

Homes damaged as fire hits Perth suburb

December 12, 2006

FIREFIGHTERS tonight finally contained a fire in Perth's hill suburbs which destroyed one house, damaged several others and put three people in hospital.

Those stories, and photos, are in The Australian.

Here are some reader photos sent in to the newspapers from various fires over the last few years. They give some small idea of the scale of these monsters:

Photo. Garry & Sue Francis.

Photo. Paul & Wendy Greenhalg.

Photo. Terry Barton.

Saving a pony. Photo. Tex Ihasz.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Two days to regroup in Victoria. But...

THREATS from bushfires engulfing Victoria's north and east eased today reports the Australian.


Homes lost as fire tears through three states

FIRES created havoc across three states last night as lightning strikes and fierce winds sparked blazes that threatened homes in Sydney's west, destroyed up to 23 houses in Tasmania and consumed vast areas of bushland in Victoria.

That's a developing story from Sydney Morning Herald.

Photo Stuart Mcevoy. The Australian. A fire in Victoria.

THREATS from bushfires engulfing Victoria's north and east eased today, but exhausted firefighters have little chance for rest as they prepare for a second onslaught later in the week.

THE immediate bushfire threat to a raft of Victorian towns in the state's high country has abated but dozens of fires are still burning strongly throughout much of the state's northeast in remote and difficult terrain in the Alpine National Park. Rising temperatures and strengthening winds have been forecast for Wednesday and Thursday.

CFA deputy chief officer Geoff Evans described the moderation in weather as a lull before the storm. “These fires are going to push south again and could again impact on communities around Glenmaggie and across to the Bairnsdale area,” Mr Evans told ABC Radio. “This fire will go on for months ... we have to keep up communication with the community about how the fire is going to progress and where it is.”

Meanwhile, in Sydney The Australian is reporting:

Bushfire threatens city homes

December 11, 2006

A BUSHFIRE sparked by lightning strikes is burning near the backyards of properties in Sydney's west.

Lightning ignited fires in the roofs of three Sydney homes, with one now spreading to bushland in Cranebrook.

The fire was almost brought under control until a southerly change fanned the blaze and it is now burning northwards, posing a threat to some homes around Smeeton, Vincent and The Northern roads.

Rural Fire Service (RFS) spokesman Cameron Wade said more than 100 personnel and 80 trucks were currently attending the blaze, with more resources on the way.

"It's come right up to the backyard in a lot of cases," Mr Wade said.

And further south in Tasmania:

Tasmanian firestorm destroys homes

Tracy Ong and Richard Kerbaj

December 12, 2006

FOURTEEN houses have been destroyed in raging bushfires along Tasmania's east coast and up to 23 properties are feared to have been lost.

No deaths or injuries have been reported, but the Tasmanian Fire Service last night confirmed at least 14 homes had been hit in the northeast coastal town of Scamander.

TFS senior station officer Danny Reid said authorities were attempting to determine exactly how many dwellings had been lost during the firestorm, which was fanned by 100km/h winds.

Robert Legge, Mayor of the Break O'Day Council that covers Scamander, said he had heard reports up to 23 homes had been burnt but reports were "sketchy" because the phone networks were down.

Tasmania's chief fire officer, John Gledhill, said fire crews would not be able to determine the exact number of homes burnt until today. "There was a firestorm ... it actually burnt through to the coast there," he said.

The Tasmanian blazes have been burning for the past week but turned into an inferno yesterday in the intense wind conditions, forcing firefighters to retreat from the frontline.

And just one little cameo:

30 stay behind to defend village

Richard Kerbaj

December 11, 2006

IT'S been more than 20 years since John Ellis had to defend his home from a bushfire. During Victoria's deadly Ash Wednesday fires in 1983, the inferno got to within 50m of his doorstep.
That was in Upwey, in the Dandenong Ranges, east of Melbourne. But yesterday, with another massive blaze threatening, the high school music teacher was readying to defend his getaway in the alpine town of Woods Point.

Mr Ellis has been in the 45-resident town in Victoria's northeast since last Thursday to ensure the house he has owned for only six months does not go up in flames.

"I came up here to see if I can help out anyone who needs help," he told The Australian last night. "The threat is really bringing the community together."

The 60-year-old father of two is one of 30 people who have stayed back to defend their properties in the town that is historically famous for goldmining.

The state's most destructive bushfire, on Black Friday, 1939, killed 71 people and destroyed Woods Point. But the residents were yesterday confident that they had done all they could to save the town this time.

Fire authorities had prepared two safety points for residents in the town centre. One was at a mine shaft, known as The Adit, which was equipped with food and water, blankets and oxygen masks. The other was at the town's Country Fire Authority headquarters.

CFA operations manager in Woods Point, Paul King, last night said firefighters had developed a three-point strategy.

In the first instance they wanted to protect the entire town.

If that failed they would defend "key community assets", such as the pub, police station and petrol station.

Should that also fail, they would concentrate on ensuring the safety of residents.

Mr Ellis said he hoped that Mother Nature would have mercy on the town and bring in the rain.

"I hope it's all got a happy ending", he said.

And that's what it comes down to.

And another face of the story. The Age reports:

THE firefighters are getting tired.

It shows at the end of shifts, when CFA volunteers collapse outside the Whitfield staging post, the 40-degree heat no barrier to sleep.

The battle in this north-eastern town has been long and fierce.

For the past week, firefighters have been working 12-hour shifts round the clock — at a minimum. For many, it has been worse.

Robert Cook, captain of the Edi Rural Fire Brigade, says he has been working 22-hour days. At times, his volunteers have felt like zombies.

It has been tough. But that extraordinary effort, resulting in huge tracts of backburned land and thick control lines, appears to have been successful.

Yesterday, it looked as though Whitfield — regarded by the CFA as directly under threat — was going to survive the much feared "horror weekend".

And while all these people are battling to exhaustion, risking their lives to save lives, human & animal, and property:

Arsonists strike as the battle rages

Lisa Macnamara

December 11, 2006

WHILE more than 3000 firefighters battled blazes in northeast Victoria and Gippsland, several fires appeared to have been deliberately lit in Melbourne and in the southwest of the state.

Police were yesterday treating a fire that destroyed a home near Camperdown, in Victoria's southwest, as suspicious.

Firefighters also spent two hours putting out deliberately litgrass fires that threatened homes at Glenroy, in Melbourne's northwest.

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks warned that fire bugs would be aggressively prosecuted.

"It's just one of the most reprehensible things imaginable at a time when the state is tinderbox dry," he said.
From a report in The Australian

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Fighting the beast. Australia ablaze.

Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

Victoria, Australia's second most populous state, is ablaze and you can't begin to imagine the size or ferocity of these fires.

Let me try to explain what they're facing.

Try to imagine a firefront 25 kilometres long, flames 100 feet high and travelling at 20 kph.That was just one of the 100 bushfires we had blazing all around Sydney during Christmas 2001. The worst day was the first, Christmas Day, when several townships were hit. 150 houses were destroyed.

People lost not only their house, furniture, clothing, their jewellery but their certificates, birth certificates, photos of their children growing up. Some had pets in the house...

They lost a lifetime, left with literally the clothes they were wearing. On Christmas Day.

Now in 2006 we're in one of the worst droughts in history, dams at historic low levels. Earlier in the year New South Wales and South Australia were hit by bushfires, way before the fire season usually begins.

Right now Victoria is under attack. So far more than a quarter million hectares have burnt with the fires out of control. None are contained and temperatures have topped 42C. That’s Melbourne’s hottest December day for over 50 years. What’s worse is hot, swirling winds of over 50kph.

Photo: Craig Abraham. The Age

Three thousand firefighters are battling the blazes. Volunteer firefighters have gone in from other states and from New Zealand to help and the army is on standby.

Twelve fires sweeping down from the alpine region to Gippsland yesterday are expected to merge into two or three super fires today, fire behaviour experts have warned. If fires join up a firefront 100 kilometres wide is being predicted.

Think about that.

A fire more than 100 kilometres wide.

Australian bushfires are so big they're impossible to put out. They are so vast and so intense that many create their own weather conditions, the huge updraught creating unpredictable winds. The best the firefighters can do is to try to contain them by using natural firebreaks such as rivers and roads, carving more breaks around the fires, backburning ahead of the fires to deny them fuel. They try to let them burn themselves out within the containment lines - and pray for rain.

Water is scarce. Aircraft, helicopters and fire trucks are used unless, as happened yesterday they're grounded because the smoke has killed visibility. Thousands of firefighters - most of them our unbelievably brave bush fire brigades volunteers - do their best to defend lives and property.

Photo: Chris Hocking. The Age

The native wildlife has a terrible time, as do domestic animals. Motorists are warned to be aware of animals seeking shelter from the fires on the roads, the only fire-free strips available to them. People find wild native animals sheltering in their gardens. Farm animals are also caught in the fires - thousands of sheep, cattle and horses are killed. Farmers have to go out to shoot badly injured animals when the fire has passed. It's heartbreaking.

What's burning is our ubiquitous gum trees. Eucalypts. Full of highly flammable oil. They explode as the fire reaches them. That throws an ember storm up into the wind which carries it hundreds of metres. It jumps rivers, roads and containment lines that have been built and spot fires start ahead of the main blaze. People who've been near them talk about the terrible noise of the fires.

It's the ember storms that cause most property loss. Embers in the roof, in grass around the house and in minutes it's ablaze. We all know how to prepare the house in the face of oncoming fire, but in spite of heroic efforts many are lost. Homeowners do what they can but often an official evacuation order is given. If you've prepared properly the car is loaded with your most precious items, including important documents, photo albums and the pets. There's nothing more you can do.

So far in Victoria's current crisis two homes have been lost but no human lives. Animals will not have been as lucky.

But dozens of towns are under immediate threat as high winds fan the flames. The temperature is around 40C and humidity is low, disastrous weather for the firefighters. New fires are starting, caused by ember storms and lightning strikes, but also some inevitably by the murderous arsonists who crawl out from under their rocks every fire season.

This comment from today's Melbourne Age:

Despite the most frightening conditions since the Ash Wednesday fires that claimed 75 lives 23 years ago, Victoria has so far been spared the weekend of horror it had been warned to expect.

But Police chief commissioner Christine Nixon told journalists the bushfire threat remained extreme.

"We may lose lives," she said."We will lose more assets but we will have done the best we can to protect people and this whole environment."

The Australian reports comment from two firefighters:

With firefighting experience totalling more than 80 years, John Mitchell and Bob Pearce have fought blazes up and down the east coast, seen lives lost and millions of hectares razed, but both say the fires raging through Victoria's alpine country are the worst they've seen.

"This is the biggest fire I've ever heard of in terms of area. When the wind comes up, this will be about as bad as it gets," Mr Mitchell said yesterday.

Mr Mitchell and Mr Pearce spent yesterday fighting to hold back a blaze in the valley just south of Whitfield, near Mansfield, hoping to stop it jumping the Whitfield-Mansfield road and threatening towns in Victoria's remote high country.

If the fire jumps the road, the forecast northerly winds mean the tiny town of Tolmie will be one of the first threatened.

"We need to stop the fire moving across the road because Tolmie looks ready to go," Mr Pearce said. "There's not much water up here, so we're relying on tankers, I don't reckon the helicopters will be much good, because they haven't got anywhere to pick up water from."

The fires that came through Sydney suburbs in 1994 I remember well. It's an eerie experience. The sky is red or orange, there's a deathly quiet, you can smell smoke and burnt timber in the air. The lull before the storm. You prepare. And you wait.

This photo from Victoria gives me goose bumps because it sums up the atmosphere, the watching and waiting:

Photo: Angela Wylie

The State Emergency Service website gives an idea of the fires that year:

1993 - 1994, December - January, North Coast , Hunter & Sydney

Four dead - two civilians and two fire fighters

800 fires destroyed 800,000 hectares

225 homes and other buildings destroyed and a further 150 damaged

Evacuations - 27,250 people

Firefighters - estimated 20,000

In excess of 800 fires started between 27 December 1993 and 16 January 1994. Ultimately over 800,000 hectares were burnt. 204 significant bushfires were burning at the height of the crisis.

The most serious losses occurred in fires in the Sydney region, in particular at Jannali and West Como, where about half of the total homes lost in the State were destroyed. Two fire-fighters and two civilians died. One of the civilians was a woman who sheltered in a swimming pool at Jannali, but died of airway burns due to the intense heat of the air she was breathing.

In 2003 Canberra, the federal capital, was badly hit by bushfires with four people killed and over 500 homes destroyed or badly damaged.

That's the sort of situation Victorians are facing at this very moment.

Between them and the fires are true heroes. The word has almost lost its meaning because it's used, misused, so frequently. There are true heroes, but I only acknowledge two groups - firefighters and lifeboat crew. People who volunteer and who run towards the terror that the rest of us run away from.

CFA volunteer Tony Tynan in fire-ravaged Rose River in north-eastern Victoria yesterday.
Photo: Craig Abraham. The Age

You can read the stories in The Australian and The Age

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The good ol' days. Part 4

I'm trying to find the time to go through my old photos, scan them and post them here. It'll take a while. But I've got a few more I took in '77 and '78 which you may like to see...and go misty-eyed about how it was if you were here back then.

First, the airport. I know we have to have progress, we need a much bigger airport and all that. But I loved the old one. This was the main entrance...

Then the Trade Centre - the tallest building in the Middle East for a while. Way out in the desert in those days. That's the late Hilton Hotel behind it - demolished about a year ago...

And finally, as I'm pushed for time so this posting has to be short, one of Dubai's first exotic, unusual buildings, a private villa. It's still there in Jumeirah, now surrounded by development of course. A landmark to help people find their way, then and now...

Previous old photos:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What an indictment.

A letter in Gulf News today:

To the people of UAE …

I am a resident of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where we got the full force of Hurricane Katrina.

I am a heart patient who receives treatment at a small local clinic for people without insurance.

At my last visit, I was handed a pamphlet that told me my visit was being paid for by a gift from your nation.

Thank you.

Your gift reminded me that in spite of our differences, we are one people on this planet.

From Mr Gregory Grant
Mississippi, US

Just spend a moment thinking about the implications of those few words.

The USA is by far the world's richest country, yet it has around 50 million of its citizens with no health insurance.

Plaudits to the UAE for sending aid to those people - but how the hell have successive American governments allowed this situation to continue?

It's yet another example of the need to look very seriously at the standards of their own society rather than believe that they should impose it on the rest of the world.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Dubai, the good ol' days. Part 3.

More photos from the late seventies, the first being the apartment block I lived in - luxurious in seventies Dubai! It was in Deira just behind Al Ghurair City, which didn't exist at the time.

I was on the top, sixth, floor so I had pretty good views across into the downtown area of Deira. The next photo shows the kind of buildings that were all over the area - basically private villas. The big building being constructed in the background is Al Ghurair Centre.

And this photo is a bit later when Al Ghurair Centre was finished. It was the largest building in the Middle East and had the most luxurious apartments in Dubai.

A few more photos taken from the window of my apartment. Notice the new road stopping short of the villa - it was soon demolished to allow the road to be completed.

More to come when I scan them and have time to post.

Previous old photos are here and here.

Dubai, the good ol' days. Part 2

I really must be more diligent in posting my old photos regularly because whenever old ones appear on blogs people always ask to see more.

To set the scene I should start with some from another site, the poster unknown, that go back way before I first arrived in Dubai, which was in May 1977. (Just an aside - people were saying even then that Dubai was being spoiled, it wasn't like the good old days any more, and some of them packed up and left. Nothing changes).

Back to the photos. They're worth looking at because they answer the criticism that the old city has been levelled to make way for the new development. In reality the city was very small and almost all of the new development is being built on empty desert. There were areas that could have been preserved, but they were in the heart of the city, prime real estate and I guess that it must have seemed to make sense at the time to replace the mud & coral houses with large multi-storey buildings.

Dubai is very young and it was very small - it was settled by about 800 members of the Bani Yas tribe, led by the Al Maktoums, only in 1833. That was the beginning. One hundred and seventy three years ago, 800 people.

Even when I arrived there were quite a few of the original houses still standing - a few have been preserved in Bastakiyah and Shindagah. Basically mud with coral used as reinforcing they almost certainly wouldn't have lasted even if they hadn't been demolished. The population was only about 250,000 then.

Anyway, on to the photos:

The first is 1949 showing the extent of Dubai. Top left of course is Deira, bottom left is Shindagah and the buildings on the right are Bur Dubai. There wasn't much of it was there! Note that the Creek is silted up. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the then Ruler of Dubai, wisely invested in dredging it as part of his vision to continue developing Dubai as a major trading centre.

The next photo is Shindagah, the area that is now being preserved where possible and with other parts being re-built in the old style. The photo was taken in 1962.

And just one more of these really old photos, this one of Al Fahidi Fort, now the very much worth seeing Dubai Museum. Taken in 1950.

And on to photos I took when I arrived in Dubai in 1977. There were still quite a few of the old traditional houses and buildings, windtowers included.

And plenty of narrow alleyways with sand floors trodden hard over generations between the traditional buildings. There were very few made-up footpaths.

More to come on future postings. I'll give the links to the previous postings too, so anyone who wants to look through all the old photos can do so easily.

Previous posting is here