NSW bushfires: Sydney spared from catastrophe but northern fire fields are still on alert
Planning, bravery, lessons learnt from the past — and a little bit of luck — helped Sydney avoid a bushfire catastrophe yesterday.
But with 12 fires at emergency level and a southerly buster whipping up the coast and into the fire grounds in northern NSW in the early morning, people were urged to “remain vigilant”.
More than 3000 firefighters across NSW were hailed as heroes as they followed a carefully crafted plan to contain and battle fires in catastrophic fire conditions of high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “What I’ve been particularly impressed by over the past 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”.
Technology, intelligence and information sharing had ensured “we’re getting everything to where it needs to get to as soon as it needs to get there”.
That and a little bit of luck.
A fire taking hold at South Turramurra was brought under control by an air tanker that was on its way somewhere else, dropping fire retardant on the fire. Police are investigating how that fire started.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said: “In the example of Turramurra, that aircraft was already assigned and deployed to another fire burning a little bit further north.
“We diverted that (aircraft) and turned it around and got it to rapidly intervene and provide a meaningful drop and knock down effect on that fire in Turramurra.”
He urged people to “remain vigilant” into the early hours of this morning when the southerly wind change was expected to hit the fire grounds of northern NSW.
Last night 85 fires were still burning including 12 at emergency level, with one million hectares of the state burnt, three people dead and 150 homes lost since the weekend.
Across the state, firefighters were being hailed as heroes. A fast-moving front on the outskirts of Greta in the Hunter Valley was heading straight towards 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.”
Legendary water bombing helicopter Elvis then swooped in as the flames jumped Mr Britten’s house.
“You need to play the lottery every now and then and I’ve just won mine,” he said.
In the Blue Mountains, fire crews swooped on burning embers to defy doomsday predictions while in Wolli Creek firefighters from four different agencies including Aviation Rescue and Railcorp Emergency Response worked together to ensure a grass fire did not spread.
The protective coverage was statewide. At Emmaville in New England residents were told to evacuate as the Torrington fire approached their homes.
Resident Jay Wooder said: “We thought all the resources would have gone down south when the Sydney warning came but they have still been here.
“They have their bombing planes and their helicopters which has been helping a fair bit. We had about 50 fire trucks in Emmaville.”
Debra Brittan was sleeping in her campervan at Wingham Showgrounds and said firefighters had been putting up the fight of their lives.
“They’re mostly older men, over 60, it’s incredible,” she said. “They’ll be out there for 24 hours today, they’ll be exhausted. They’re absolutely amazing.”
The 12 fires at emergency level are at Stockyard East near Port Macquarie; Gospers Mountain northeast of Lithgow; Thunderbolts Way north of Gloucester; Reserves Rd north of Gloucester; Kian Rd inland from Nambucca; Myall Creek Rd near Evan’s Head; Rumba Dump northeast of Taree; Hillville Rd southwest of Taree; Carrai East near Kempsey; Carrai Creek near Kempsey; Washpool State Forest in the Clarence Valley; and Liberation Trail in the Clarence Valley.
Mr Fitzsimmons said no areas of NSW were declared “catastrophic” today however a total fire ban was still in place with dry, windy conditions still expected for the rest of the week, with no sign of rain.
“Certainly as we head into Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we can expect elevated fire dangers again,” he said.
Originally published as Saved from catastrophe but still on alert