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.

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media_cameraA bushfire burns outside a property near Taree, 350km north of Sydney on Tuesday. Picture: AFP/Peter Parks
Jamie Fato prepares to stop an out of control fire entering Owen Whalan’s property at Koorainghat, near Taree, on Tuesday. Picture: AAP/Darren Patemanpacific.epeak.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/1573558426_709_NSW-bushfires-Sydney-spared-from-catastrophe-but-northern-fire-fields.webp”/>
media_cameraJamie Fato prepares to stop an out of control fire entering Owen Whalan’s property at Koorainghat, near Taree, on Tuesday. Picture: AAP/Darren Pateman
Owen Whalan, 85, who met Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday was back at home and happy with his border collies when he was evacuated for the second time after fire burnt up his back paddock minutes after this image was taken near Taree on Tuesday. Picture: AAP/Darren Patemanpacific.epeak.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/1573558428_751_NSW-bushfires-Sydney-spared-from-catastrophe-but-northern-fire-fields.webp”/>
media_cameraOwen Whalan, 85, who met Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday was back at home and happy with his border collies when he was evacuated for the second time after fire burnt up his back paddock minutes after this image was taken near Taree on Tuesday. Picture: AAP/Darren Pateman

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”.

Anthony Thornhill lost accommodation and property to a bushfire but stayed with, and saved, his horses by evacuating with them to his top paddock overnight at his Utopia Park horse property at Koorainghat near Taree. Picture: AAP/Darren Patemanpacific.epeak.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/NSW-bushfires-Sydney-spared-from-catastrophe-but-northern-fire-fields.jpeg”/>
media_cameraAnthony Thornhill lost accommodation and property to a bushfire but stayed with, and saved, his horses by evacuating with them to his top paddock overnight at his Utopia Park horse property at Koorainghat near Taree. Picture: AAP/Darren Pateman

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.

Fire retardant was dropped from a plane to save homes at Turrumurra. Picture: John Graingerpacific.epeak.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/1573558433_654_NSW-bushfires-Sydney-spared-from-catastrophe-but-northern-fire-fields.jpeg”/>
media_cameraFire retardant was dropped from a plane to save homes at Turrumurra. Picture: John Grainger

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.

Retardant bombing at South Turramurra Picture: 9 Newspacific.epeak.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/1573558435_171_NSW-bushfires-Sydney-spared-from-catastrophe-but-northern-fire-fields.jpeg”/>
media_cameraRetardant bombing at South Turramurra Picture: 9 News

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.”

The RFS saved John Britten’s house but couldn’t save his workshed at Greta. Picture: Peter Lorimer.pacific.epeak.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/1573558437_993_NSW-bushfires-Sydney-spared-from-catastrophe-but-northern-fire-fields.jpeg”/>
media_cameraThe RFS saved John Britten’s house but couldn’t save his workshed at Greta. Picture: Peter Lorimer.

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.

Charred trees at the Woodford residential area after a bushfire in Blue Mountains on Tuesday. Picture: AFP/Saeed Khanpacific.epeak.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/1573558440_884_NSW-bushfires-Sydney-spared-from-catastrophe-but-northern-fire-fields.jpeg”/>
media_cameraCharred trees at the Woodford residential area after a bushfire in Blue Mountains on Tuesday. Picture: AFP/Saeed Khan
A woman walks past charred trees at the Woodford residential area after a bushfire in Blue Mountains on Tuesday. Picture: AFP/Saeed Khanpacific.epeak.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/1573558443_19_NSW-bushfires-Sydney-spared-from-catastrophe-but-northern-fire-fields.jpeg”/>
media_cameraA woman walks past charred trees at the Woodford residential area after a bushfire in Blue Mountains on Tuesday. Picture: AFP/Saeed Khan

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.”

A water tank driver helps mop up after a grass fire impacted a property on Fourth Avenue, Llandilo, west of Sydney. Picture: AAP/Dan Himbrechtspacific.epeak.in/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/1573558445_734_NSW-bushfires-Sydney-spared-from-catastrophe-but-northern-fire-fields.webp”/>
media_cameraA water tank driver helps mop up after a grass fire impacted a property on Fourth Avenue, Llandilo, west of Sydney. Picture: AAP/Dan Himbrechts

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



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