The ferocity of the bushfires has been plain to see for those trapped in their path, but incredible pictures from the sky and space give a new insight.
The ferocity of the bushfires has been plain to see for those trapped in their path, but incredible pictures from the sky and space give a new insight.

Eyes in the sky show scale of monster blazes

This is what the state's bushfire crisis looks like in a picture taken from space.

The satellite image of violent firefronts around Batemans Bay is part of the Copernicus Emergency Management Service being used by firefighters in their battle against the blazes.

The eyes in the sky also ­include specialist air attack supervisors such as American Joel Kerley, who left his family halfway across the world in Idaho to direct aerial ­attacks on the Blue Mountains Grose Valley inferno.

He watches the fire from a helicopter and co-ordinates water bombing aircraft, ­including the large air tankers, as they drop water and fire retardant.

Mr Kerley's specialist skill set is one of many being brought to Australia from the US and Canada to help this fire season. Another contingent of 39 North American firefighters arrived in Melbourne yesterday.

North American firefighters arrive on Thursday. Picture: Julian Smith/AAP Image
North American firefighters arrive on Thursday. Picture: Julian Smith/AAP Image

Mr Kerley has helped save plenty of homes, but from his chopper he has also watched houses go up in flames in what he describes as some of the toughest conditions he's seen anywhere in the world.

He said the lack of moisture in the landscape had given NSW's fires a similar power and behaviour to the infamous California wildfires.

"The speed, the rate of spread is California-like, very similar," he said.

"It's very intense fire behaviour that you have to stay ahead of in order to catch it."

Mr Kerley has joined Canadian logistics specialists who were also sent to Australia before Christmas to co-ordinate ground teams on the mid-north coast.

He said he was "incredibly moved" seeing more than 300 RFS volunteers turn up that day to defend their ­communities on Christmas morning.

 

US air supervisor Joel Kerley briefs other pilots. Picture: Richard Dobson
US air supervisor Joel Kerley briefs other pilots. Picture: Richard Dobson

"They're the reason we're here, gladly, to sacrifice what small things we are sacrificing," he said.

"There will be more Christmases with my family, but when you see people losing homes around holidays it hits you hard."

Weather and climate agencies around the world are studying the bushfires as well. Online many people are tweaking the data to show hot spots and cloud formations caused by the massive plumes of smoke, as seen in the image taken by the Sentinel 2 satellite.

Kiwi pilot Duncan Gourley has also been crucial in the aerial fight. He has been "flat out" water bombing NSW fires since August.

 

One of Joel Kerley’s photographs from the air on New Year's Eve.
One of Joel Kerley’s photographs from the air on New Year's Eve.

"Everything is so dry, I've never seen fire behaviour like it," he said. "Experienced Rural Fire Service and ­National Parks and Wildlife guys say they've never seen it before - it's unprecedented."

Mr Gourley has a wide view of the drought and fire ravaged countryside from his cockpit and said the state's farms look like "ghost towns".

"When I was working up around Armidale and Taree to see the farms with no stock, flying over all this brown and burned farmland and there's nothing happening … the fire's are bad but the drought is almost worse."