[ photo: Fire threatens to break out on Mountain Lagoon rd, Bilpin. Photo: Nick Moir]
By Megan Levy
Strong wind gusts of up to 100km/h are fanning large bushfires already burning across parts of NSW, while new blazes are breaking out in the afternoon’s deteriorating conditions.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said that at 2pm, three emergency warnings had been issued for fires burning at Stockrington Road in Minmi in the Newcastle area, for the Springwood fire in the Blue Mountains and for the Gateshead fire in Lake Macquarie. A waterbombing helicopter sucks water from a dam at the Springwood Golf Course. A waterbombing helicopter sucks water from a dam at the Springwood Golf Course. Photo: Andrew Meares
Two of those fires were upgraded to emergency level – the highest alert level for bushfires – in the space of just 45 minutes on Tuesday afternoon.
The situation was extremely volatile as the hot, dry and windy weather reached its peak on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Fitzsimmons said.
Fire ratings for more than 60 other blazes burning across the state could change quickly throughout the afternoon, he said.
An air crane dumps water near Chapman Parade Springwood. Click for more photos
NSW Bushfires: Little chance of respite
An air crane dumps water near Chapman Parade Springwood. Photo: Andrew Meares An air crane dumps water near Chapman Parade Springwood. Fire fighters along Mountain Lagoon Road. Smoke along Mountain Lagoon Road. Fires threaten to break out across Mountain Lagoon rd near Bilpin. A helicopter water bombs a threatening fire north of Blackheath at around 3pm this afternoon.
Two helicopters waterbombing the fire in turn managed to ease the threat by around 4pm. A Blackheath local looks on as a helicopter water bombs a threatening fire north of Blackheath at around 3pm this afternoon.
That was particularly the case in the Blue Mountains, where strong winds were fanning spot fires and causing ember attacks around Springwood, Winmalee and Bilpin. The winds have forced water-bombing helicopters to suspend some of their operations.
“Activity is increasing right across different parts of the fire grounds throughout the Blue Mountains,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
He said it was a very dynamic situation and there were “a number of new fires starting right across the fire-affected areas”.
About midday on Wednesday, the RFS issued an emergency warning for a blaze on Stockrington Road at Minmi.
The fire, which forced the evacuation of Minmi Public School, is burning west of the M1 Motorway, which has been closed in both directions.
Fire crews are working around homes in Stockrington Road, Dog Hole Road and Seahampton Road as the fire heads towards Minmi.
The RFS upgraded the warning level of the Springwood fire, which has been burning for the past week, to emergency status again just after 2pm.
Burning embers were being blown towards homes in the area around Chapman Parade, Grose Road and Douglas Road due to the strong and gusty winds, the RFS said, and an emergency alert telephone warning was being sent to people in the area.
An emergency warning was issued for the Gateshead fire in Lake Macquarie about 2.45pm.
The fire was burning in a south-easterly direction towards Dudley and Redhead.
The RFS has been warning since the weekend of the potential devastation that Wednesday’s weather could cause, and a revised forecast issued on Tuesday evening was even more worrying than expected.
The forecast in the Blue Mountains on Wednesday is for temperatures in the mid to high 30s, very low humidity and wind gusts of between 80 and 100km/h. Just after 2pm, Sydney’s temperature touched 33.6 degrees.
One of the largest firefighting contingents ever to be assembled in NSW history is battling an active 1500-kilometre fire edge in the Blue Mountains.
Mr Fitzsimmons said up to five millimetres of rain had fallen across fire grounds on Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.
The heaviest rain in the Blue Mountains fell around Springwood, Winmalee and Bilpin, while rain also fell on the southern highlands blaze.
“Whilst that is some welcome relief in terms of moderating the current fire behaviour, it has compromised considerably the ability to continue with the backburning operations that were planned throughout the evening,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
“It was already challenging enough trying to do backburning operations in fuels that were fairly young, only a few years old, because they were only burnt in recent years.
“You add onto that elevated humidity, or indeed some shower activity, and we had some real issues. That’s certainly what’s happened overnight.”