The New South Wales Rural Fire Service isurging people living under threat of bushfires to remain vigilant despite the respite in conditions. The latest forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology is for conditions to deteriorate with north-westerly winds similar to those on Christmas Day expected to pick up and temperatures expected to reach 40 degrees on Sunday.The bureau’s Kevin O’Louchlan says southerly winds will then hit. “It looks like it is a good genuine southerly buster that at least on the coastal fringe will bring a change in direction of around 90 degrees which will be difficult for firefighters managing going fires at that stage,” Mr O’Louchlan said. The fire of biggest concern remains in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney. Crews are also monitoring a blaze in the Hunter Valley which could threaten properties in Cessnock. A fire which broke through containment lines on the central coast has now eased as have fires to the south of Sydney. Fires on the state’s south coast near Hussiksen, Jervis Bay and Nowra continue to burn erratically, but overall conditions have been mild and fires crews are using the respite to plan for the busy weekend ahead. About 7,000 firefighters are now on the ground in New South Wales, fighting 100 fires across the state, but the Rural Fire Service has predicted that when winds pick up, only a small number of those fires will be under control. Hundreds of firefighters from interstate are being rushed to New South Wales, with South Australia sending 300 and Victoria and Queensland 120. Crews in Western Australia are also on stand-by.The Rural Fire Service says the combined perimeter of all 100 fires would total around 600 kilometres. With predictions of a worsening bushfire situation over the weekend, authorities have now declared a total fire ban for New South Wales. It is the first time in a number of years fire authorities have taken the step of declaring a state-wide fire ban.
Water bombing The NSW Fire Brigade says aerial water bombing has started over fires burning in Sydney’s south. The bombing will take place around Holdsworthy, Engadine and Loftus. The brigade is urging residents in surrounding suburbs not to panic as there will be an increase in smoke haze.
Arson task force Meanwhile, the chief of the newly established bushfire arson task force says there is little evidence so far to suggest arson has caused any of the blazes across New South Wales. The head of Strike Force Tronto, Police Commander John Laycock, began assembling his team. “At this stage we have minimal intelligence to indicate any acts of arson, howeverthat’s not to say it hasn’t occurred,” he said. “Stage one will be to scope the size of the problem but at this stage we do not know how big the criminal side of it is.”
Arson arrests Earlier, three teenagers who were arrested on suspicion of lighting bushfires nearWollongong, have escaped formal charges. Police have instead recommended they participate in youth conferencing.It is alleged the 15-year-olds started a blaze near a residential area of Wattle Road atShellharbour. The fire was extinguished by police and residents just after 7.30pm AEDT. Police say they will recommend the teenagers for counselling and the decision will be reviewed by the Department of Juvenile Justice.