Fireys brace for marathon fight
MORE than 150 fires were raging in NSW and Queensland last night, with hundreds of thousands of residents facing “catastrophic” fire danger amid fears a southerly wind change could make matters worse.
Queensland’s Acting Fire Commissioner Mike Wassing said a “long haul” effort was ahead for firefighters.
“This is a marathon for us with sprints in-between, and we are managing the fatigue of our people,” he said.
About 4000 firefighters battled blazes near Nowra in southern NSW all the way up to Cape York, with residents in some parts of Sydney’s North Shore warned to seek shelter as flames damaged properties.
Fifty fires in NSW were last night described as “uncontained”, 13 classed as “emergency” — including one at South Turramurra, just 17km north of Sydney’s CBD.
Just before the southerly change hit Sydney at 7pm, NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said : “We simply can’t rest easy at this stage. We’ve got many hours left yet of prevailing, hot, dry, windy conditions.”
Firefighters were hailed as heroes as they battled in high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “What I’ve been particularly impressed by over the last few days has been the level of preparations that have been put in place to prepare for this day.”
He said firefighting agencies “have learned from the horrific fires of the past, in particular Black Saturday”.
There were reports of firefighters being injured, including heatstroke and broken bones.
Multiple homes were damaged in North Rothbury, near Cessnock, Mr Fitzsimmons said, with structures hit in the Hillville area south of Taree.
A fast-moving front on the outskirts of Greta in the Hunter Valley was heading straight towards resident John Britten’s house when fire trucks arrived. “It moved about 200m in just a few seconds,” Mr Britten said. “If it weren’t for them I’d have been gone in just two more minutes.”
Water-bombing helicopter Elvis arrived as flames jumped Mr Britten’s house.
In the Blue Mountains, fire crews worked to defy doomsday predictions, while in Wolli Creek firefighters from Aviation Rescue and Railcorp Emergency Response contained a grass fire.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Queensland was enduring “catastrophic conditions” as 100,000ha of land burned. Residents were on high alert with “prepare to leave” warnings at Tarome, Palen Creek, Rosevale, Clumber and Moogerah.
With fires approaching Palen Creek prison farm near the NSW border, 133 prisoners were evacuated.
A state of emergency has been declared in NSW with the armed forces standing by to provide support. More than 600 schools in NSW were shut yesterday. The fires have claimed three lives and destroyed at least 160 homes.