Fears homes lost in NSW/ACT bushfires

 

Five emergency warnings are in place for blazes across the NSW south coast, and one in the Canberra region downgraded from emergency to watch and act, as there are reports of at least five houses destroyed.

A state of emergency was declared for the Australian Capital Territory, as residents and authorities braced for the most dangerous conditions since the deadly 2003 bushfires.

The out-of-control Orroral Valley bushfire in the Namadgi National Park was upgraded to an emergency warning on Saturday before being downgraded to watch and act late in the afternoon.

The emergency warning fires are the Big Jack Mountain; Border Fire; Creewah Rd, Glen Allen; Postmans Trail; and Clear Range.

The Clear Range Fire burns near Bredbo, near Canberra, on Saturday. Picture: Brook Mitchell/Getty
The Clear Range Fire burns near Bredbo, near Canberra, on Saturday. Picture: Brook Mitchell/Getty

By 4pm, at least five houses were feared lost in north of Bredbo on Saturday, with more houses under threat from the Clear Range fire.

The farming hamlet of Bumbalong bore the brunt of the fire, which burnt eastwards out of the Namadgi National Park in the ACT and crossed into NSW shortly after midday.

The reports of lost houses had not been officially confirmed late on Saturday afternoon, as yet more crews arrived in the area to bolster the almost 100-strong contingent of firefighters which arrived at the village on Saturday, spreading out as the fire approached.

An Army helicopter flies over the Big Jack Mountain fire in the Bega Valley. Picture: Toby Zerna
An Army helicopter flies over the Big Jack Mountain fire in the Bega Valley. Picture: Toby Zerna

The Orroral Valley fire jumped a road near the popular Namadgi National Park Visitors Centre and is closing in on the town of Tharwa in NSW.

Police closed roads in Canberra's south including the Monaro Hwy between Old Cooma Rd and Rose Valley Rd, as well as Cotter Rd at Brindabella Rd, where the Clear Range fire is threatening homes at Michelago.

A RFS aerial bomber drops repellent near the village of Bredbo. Picture: Gary Ramage
A RFS aerial bomber drops repellent near the village of Bredbo. Picture: Gary Ramage

That blaze was created from embers that moved kilometres from the ACT's large Orroral Valley fire.

Firefighters are door knocking homes in at-risk suburbs in Canberra's south and west to help residences prepare.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the fire was expected to intensify over the next six hours.

People on the Far south coast near Tantawangalo were warned to seek shelter in a solid structure on Saturday afternoon as the 6000-hectare Glen Allen fire and two smaller blazes all reached emergency levels.

"Wear protective clothing and footwear. Cover all exposed skin," the warning reads.

Further south, the long-burning Border Fire also flared and spread quickly on its northern flanks near Burragate.

Unprepared people in Michelago were urged to evacuate to Canberra, while unprepared people in Colinton should go to Cooma.

"If you are away from the area, you will not be able to return," the RFS warned.


Five regions in the southeast quarter of NSW are under total fire ban on Saturday, with severe fire danger forecast.

RFS crews providing property protection at Bredbo as the sky goes red. Picture: Gary Ramage
RFS crews providing property protection at Bredbo as the sky goes red. Picture: Gary Ramage

The NSW Rural Fire Service has declared total fire bans on Saturday for the southern slopes, southern ranges, Far south coast, Monaro alpine and Illawarra/Shoalhaven regions.

Nerriga, which topped 42C at 2pm, is among several south coast locations to exceed 40C.

But the highest recorded temperatures in the state were in Sydney. Richmond was the hottest place to be, recording 46.8C at 2.49pm, while Badgerys Creek reached 46.4C. 

The sweltering temperatures coupled with strong gusty winds are creating dangerous conditions for firefighters.

Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist Neil Bennett said strong wind gusts of up to 60km/h were expected around the fire grounds in the ACT and NSW south coast up until about 6pm.

Flocks of birds fly out of the Candelo area under a smoke haze from the Big Jack Mountain. Picture: Toby Zerna
Flocks of birds fly out of the Candelo area under a smoke haze from the Big Jack Mountain. Picture: Toby Zerna

Wind gusts of up to 50km/h have been recorded in the city, inner west and the Blue Mountains today.

Temperatures in Sydney have started to ease this afternoon but hot conditions are forecast to continue tomorrow. 

The winds won't be as strong or the temperatures as high but the fire danger is expected to still be high. 

Mr Bennett said a cool change would start to move over from south east Australia tomorrow but NSW wouldn't see cooler temperatures until Monday. 

There is also a forecast for thunderstorms on Sunday which could cause headaches for firefighters battling huge blazes in the Snowy Mountains region and on the far south coast. 

Fires in the Bega Valley area, on the border with Victoria and between Canberra and Cooma are all burning at emergency warning level this afternoon.

The Big Jack Mountain fire joined with the Creewah Rd and Postmans Trail blazes early on Saturday afternoon.

Fires are getting close to properties in the small village of Bredbo in NSW. Picture: Gary Ramage
Fires are getting close to properties in the small village of Bredbo in NSW. Picture: Gary Ramage

The combined fires have burnt through more than 20,000 hectares and have not yet been controlled.

Water bombers have dumped thousands of mega litres on the blazes to prevent them running through national parks.

John McMahon, 65, and his wife Karen, 69, have chose to stay and defend their 25 acre property at the foot of the fires.

John and Karen McMahon, from Myrtle Mountain near Candelo, watch from their home as the Big Jack Mountain fire gathers intensity. Picture: Toby Zerna
John and Karen McMahon, from Myrtle Mountain near Candelo, watch from their home as the Big Jack Mountain fire gathers intensity. Picture: Toby Zerna

"We have been here since 2004, we have too much to lose. So we are enacting our fire plan and getting ready," Ms McMahon said.

"We had a big discussion about what we should do this fire season and I am staying with John."

Mr McMahon is a member at the local Candelo Rural Fire Station and said he is in regular contact with other crews on the ground.

"There are a few blokes at Wyndham and they are staying in contact," he said.

Locals in Wyndham, on the far south coast, formed a motley crew to help protect homes from the Big Jack Mountain fire.

Only a few locals remained when conditions deteriorated on Saturday afternoon.

Father and son duo Peter and Dylan Guenthroth patrolled the streets putting out spot fires near their neighbours' homes.

Sheldon Evans (driving) and Chris Veness (back of ute) put out spot fires near Wyndham. Picture: Toby Zerna
Sheldon Evans (driving) and Chris Veness (back of ute) put out spot fires near Wyndham. Picture: Toby Zerna

"We stayed here because spot fires burn homes down, I know that," Peter said.

"There were some spot fires flaring up at neighbours place. They probably won't ever know that we saved their home. Other locals here said we were losers who don't know the value of our lives.

"I'm happy the fires came through today, it has created a backburn for us."

Fires picked up in the south of town about 4.30pm, threatening properties.

A blaze rolled down the valley and would have engulfed a small wooden cottage if Sheldon Evans and Chris Veness were not there.

Mr Evans was behind the wheel of the ute while Mr Veness stood in the tray hosing down spot fires when they appeared.

Fire and Rescue NSW firefighters put out spot fires in the Bega Valley, near Wyndham. Picture: Toby Zerna
Fire and Rescue NSW firefighters put out spot fires in the Bega Valley, near Wyndham. Picture: Toby Zerna

Strong winds gusted the flames towards the homes with the pair keeping the fire long enough for NSW Fire and Rescue to arrive and extinguish the blaze.

"We just need f**king water, where's the f**cking water," Mr Evans said.

As of 2.30pm, more than 60 bush and grass fires were burning across the NSW and the ACT, with about one-third of those uncontrolled.

More than 1700 firefighters and 70 aircraft will take to the front line across the day.

* Additional reporting by Mitchell Van Homrigh and Ava Benny-Morrison