Australia: Emergency warning for Blue Mountains residents as NSW bushfires intensify

19th Oct 2013

(Sydney Morning Herald with AAP): Emergency warnings have been issued for Blue Mountains residents as bushfires  intensify in the area.

Crews have been redirected from back burning operations to protect more than  100 homes in Bell, Dargan, Berambing and Bilpin that are now under threat, Rural  Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.

Residents east of Mountain Lagoon Road are advised to evacuate if possible  but residents of Dargan and Bell are being advised to “seek shelter within the  home” as it was too late to leave.

“There’s about 20 properties in the community of Bell which are under threat  at the moment,” Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.

Residents in these areas have been told to seek shelter and avoid driving  amid warnings of numerous road closures. Bells Line of Road remains closed in a  number of locations and is blocked in both directions between Lithgow and  Bilpin. The Great Western Highway near Mt York remains open but the NSW RFS  warns it may close at any moment.

A view of Saturday's fires from  Winmalee shops.[‘Kilometres of front’: A view of Saturday’s fires from  Winmalee shops.  Photo: NSW RFS]

”This fire is by no means contained,” said Mr Rogers. ”It’s got absolutely  kilometres and kilometres of fire front.”

He stressed it was too late for people in Berambing and Bilpin to leave, as  the roads were too dangerous to use.

”The message is to shelter in place and not to leave,” Mr Rogers said.

Evacuation centres are open at the Lithgow Workers Club and Springwood Sports  Centre.

Springwood Hospital, meanwhile, has been evacuated this afternoon with 24  patients and 17 staff now en route to Nepean Private Hospital.

Clair Ramsden, Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District Incident  Controller, confirmed ambulance staff were facilitating the transfer and that  next of kin had been contacted to advise them that their loved ones were  ‘‘moving out of the area’’. She added maintenance staff were at the Springwood  site to ‘‘lock down and monitor’’ the hospital, amid worsening conditions in the  coming days.

A second air crane has been despatched to the firefighters at Springwood near  St Columba’s High School.

Explosives exercise may have started fires

As the Blue Mountains bushfire was upgraded to emergency status, the  Department of Defence was forced to concede on Saturday that it might have been  responsible for starting the blaze. Defence has confirmed it is exploring the  circumstances of the State Mine Fire near Lithgow, which has destroyed more than  30,000 hectares.

The fire started on October 16, the same day Defence personnel held an  explosive ordnance training activity at the Marangaroo Training Area. Defence  said on Saturday it was investigating whether the two events were “linked”.

“The primary concern at this stage is for the safety of the communities in  the vicinity of the fire, then the ongoing investigation which will review both  the incident and Defence procedures,” the statement said. “Our thoughts are with  those who have lost property or whose property is threatened by these  devastating fires.”

Defence said it will work with the NSW Rural Fire Service to investigate both  the incident and its own procedures, once the fire is extinguished. Detective  Superintendent Ian McNab, Commander of Strike Force Tronto, which investigates  arson related incidents, said the fire was not being treated as suspicious.

Warmer weather and winds predicted

Firefighters had earlier hoped for respite from the bushfires that have  flamed across NSW. Cooler, calmer conditions on Saturday morning delivered what  the RFS called a “pause” in the fight against the 83 fires burning  across NSW,  including 19 uncontained blazes.

RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said it will likely warm up on Sunday and  winds could strengthen on Monday. Earlier hopes of rain appeared unlikely on  Saturday afternoon. “In the absence of rain, these fires will just keep burning  and they’re just going to run hard,” Mr Rogers said.

Bushfires have devastated communities in the Blue Mountains. The RFS said on  Saturday that 193 homes had been destroyed and another 109 damaged in the  Springwood and Winmalee areas. That number could change following more  investigations.

Mr Rogers said it was particularly difficult for firefighters working in  their home area. “There’s a sense of failure when they lose homes because their  mantra is to try and protect people and their homes,” he said.

A 10,000 hectare fire in Balmoral, in the Southern Highlands, remained active  after crossing multiple roads, he said. There had been “a lot of damage caused”  in Wyong, on the central coast, where a 63-year-old man suffered a heart attack  and died defending his home.

Separately, two girls aged 12 and 13 have been accused of trying to start a  fire in a western Sydney reserve on Friday. They were arrested, questioned and  released. NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, speaking to reporters at Wyong RFS  headquarters, described the alleged arson as “sheer stupidity”.

It has also been revealed that among those to have lost their homes are five  serving NSW Police officers including Paul Bousfield, Chairperson of the NSW  Police Legacy.

Police Association President, Scott Weber, confirmed all five were back on  duty, on Saturday.

‘‘They were out there protecting the community when their homes were burning  and they’re still out there now making sure everyone’s safe. They have nowhere  to go home to, no clothes or anything. It won’t have sunk in yet.’’

A total fire ban is now in place across the greater Sydney, Hunter,  Illawarra/Shoalhaven regions and the central ranges.


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