Fireys brace for marathon fight

Mercury (Hobart) - - NEWS - ED BOYD

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.

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