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Peat Fire Burns On


I took a break from blogging for a couple of weeks over Easter, and for that entire time peat bog fires have been burning here in southwestern Victoria.

Peat fires have been smoldering at Cobrico since St Patrick's day, creating significant air pollution for almost a month now.  Vulnerable elderly residents and school students have been relocated, and a dedicated water pipeline has been constructed to help battle it.

Burning peat bogs present particularly nasty environmental problems because they are difficult to extinguish and produce highly toxic smoke.  Peat does not burn in a hot, raging fire, meaning that the fuel source can last for many months, and also that the smoke produced is heavily laden with toxic fine particulate matter and carbon monoxide; these pollutants would be more fully consumed in a hotter blaze.  Peatlands also tend to extend over large inaccessible areas, and can smolder at depths of several metres.

Peat fires present a broader global environmental problem, being a major contributor to the annual air pollution event known as the southeast asian haze.  Caused by biomass burning around Indonesia and Malaysia, the haze can extend to heavily populated cities in the region, causing severe health problems and contributing to global warming.

The fires here in Victoria appear to be well managed, with a serious fire fighting effort and extensive air quality monitoring in place, yet adverse environmental and health effects are unavoidable.  For those concerned, EPA Victoria are providing real-time air quality updates, along with helpful information on managing associated risks.

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