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  • Antarctica's Fire History

    (taken from the previous forum archives)

    From: CTeske


    I was wondering if there is any evidence suggesting that Antarctica has ever had any fire activity (i.e., wildland fires)?



    From: Paul Ward, webmaster




    In order to have had a fire history, there had to be something to burn, snow and ice are not flammable under normal circumstances! Antarctica was forested millions of years ago before it drifted over the pole so presumably fires were an issue then.
    Fire is a major issue now on Antarctic bases and an ever-present danger. In a very dry atmosphere with often very strong winds to fan the flames and little or no liquid water to put out the blaze once it has taken hold, the main thing you can do is get everyone out and stand back. Snow-blowers have been used to try and put fires out, but with little success. Antarctic snow is often very hard and fine and may well blow in the wrong direction.This is one of the main reasons that many Antarctic bases consist of a number of separate buildings that are not interlinked, if one goes up, the other will probably survive.
    Last edited by Paul Ward; 12th February 2006, 23:43.

  • #2
    Re: Antarctica's Fire History

    I was one of the 21 winterers on base at Rothera, when our laboratory building burnt to the ground. I have uploaded pictures of it in the members' gallery. Unfortunately there was not much that we could do other than watch! Attempts were made to reduce the damage using snowblowers as mentioned above, but it was pretty ineffective as the fire had taken hold inside. It is important not to put anyone at risk in such a remote place, and therefore more effective fire fighting was just not possible.

    It also turned out to be the windiest day of the year, luckily blowing the smoke away from the rest of the base...

    Jenny

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    • #3
      Re: Antarctica's Fire History

      Thanks for posting those pics Jenny:

      http://www.coolantarctica.com/PhotoP...3/limit/recent

      I heard about the fire when it happened, but that's the first picture I've seen other than the aftermath ones.

      A lot of time and effort and awareness is dedicated towards the possibility of fires in Antarctica, so it must have been pretty scary to actually have one happen. Especially in the winter when all you can do is stand and watch it burn itself out.

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      • #4
        Re: Antarctica's Fire History

        Geez...glad everyone got out ok!

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        • #5
          Re: Antarctica's Fire History

          I would love to be a firefighter down there. I understand the lack of liquid water because the temprature...

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          • #6
            Re: Antarctica's Fire History

            Originally posted by blkphysh
            I would love to be a firefighter down there. I understand the lack of liquid water because the temprature...
            There are LOTS of firefighters at McMurdo Station. In fact, about 4% of the population during the summer. (They had 44 people in the fire department this past summer.)

            At Pole there are only 2 permanent and 2 that rotate from McMurdo.

            They do have some fire extinguishers of a special type, that uses a charge of nitrogen to propel a fire-retardant powder. The new station at Pole has a sprinkler system, and in the older outbuildings special powder-based sprinklers (a combination of a fire extinguisher with a sprinkler head) are hung over the furnaces. I don't know how effective they are, but it might stop a fire before it starts - or at least buy time for people to get out.

            BTW - a lot of cold weather gear doesn't handle fire very well (i.e., it melts on you if it gets hot). But there is a solution: I tried some Nomex Fleece this year, and it works great. Also, a base layer of wool isn't a bad idea. There are also some other wicking, fire-resistant materials now available.

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            • #7
              Re: Antarctica's Fire History

              Hi Alan - 44 in the summer at McMurdo seems more than pro-rata compared to the pole station, any idea why this is?

              I'd have thought that the pole would be drier and at more fire risk, no sea-water to hand either. The base I was on Signy was right on the sea-shore and fire-drill consisted partially of getting the pump up and running to pump sea-water onto any potential fire.

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              • #8
                Re: Antarctica's Fire History

                Originally posted by Paul Ward
                Hi Alan - 44 in the summer at McMurdo seems more than pro-rata compared to the pole station, any idea why this is?

                I'd have thought that the pole would be drier and at more fire risk, no sea-water to hand either. The base I was on Signy was right on the sea-shore and fire-drill consisted partially of getting the pump up and running to pump sea-water onto any potential fire.
                Fire protection isn't my specialty, but I was told that the South Pole station didn't have ANY full-time firefighters until a few years ago, when the Air Force / Air National Guard told USAP that they weren't going to fly any more planes in if there wasn't a fire crew on the ground.

                Note: In the U.S. system, the National Guard is a State based branch of the military, which can be federalized in time of war. Most Air National Guard pilots are former Air Force pilots who want to keep their links to the military while pursuing civilian careers. Unlike the Army National Guard, these pilots, at least, get lots of training - maybe the equivalent of one week a month, and are quite good. The link here is that one unit of the New York Air National Guard has been flying support missions for the U.S. Antarctic Program for years, and that if Air Force regulations change, so will the Air National Guard regulations.

                Otherwise, McMurdo Station has lots of buildings, lots of air operations, and lots of places where fire fighters may be needed for search and rescue, whereas at Pole there are limited flights, limited facilities, and the people at Pole are far less likely to wander off, because there's no where to go.

                Finally, both stations tend to get a lot of young men from small towns, and the people who go to Antarctica tend to be the outdoorsy, adventurous types. These tend to be the same sort of people who have experience as volunteer firefighters or in search and rescue, or as EMTs (emergency medical technicians). In other words, despite having only 4 full-time firefighters on call at any time, there are probably another 30 or more well-trained personnel who can be called on in an emergency at the South Pole. McMurdo doubtless has more.

                Hope that helps.

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                • #9
                  Re: Antarctica's Fire History

                  Thanks for that Alan, I always wondered why fire fighting was such a big issue at McMurdo when other bases just make do with the personnel doing what they can.

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