Bushfire threat set to worsen

Australia:  Bushfire threat set to worsen

27 December 2001

Source and Copyright: ABC News

Milder weather across New South Wales isbringing some relief to firefighters battling more than 100 blazes around Sydney, butominous forecasts have firefighters still on guard. A wind change is expected that may bring further property losses, with 12 fronts still threatening two-thirds of the greater Sydney area. The blazes stretch south of the Royal National Park and north of Wollongong all the way to the Blue Mountains and up towards the edge of the Baulkham Hills shire. However, the major areas of concern today are the southern Sydney suburbs of Heathcote and Engadine. Sections of those suburbs were evacuated overnight, although no homes were lost and residents are now starting to return. Fire concerns on a number of fronts in the Illawarra and south coast have eased, with major evacuations at Mount Kembla east of Wollongong now looking unlikely. In Shoalhaven, 400 personnel and 70 units are continuing to fight fires around Falls Creek, Huskisson and Tomerong. Senior forecaster with the Sydney Weather Bureau Ian Robertson says the greatest risk will come when winds change direction this afternoon. 
“We’re looking at another dry day ahead throughout the state, particularly along the coast… more average sort of temperatures but the trick will be the winds,” Mr Robertson said. 
“We’re looking at south-west winds this morning, an east to south-east sea breeze along the coast, which is going to make things quite challenging for firefighting.”
Between 4,000 and 5,000 firefighters are currently battling the blazes. Crews have already been brought in from Victoria, but the Rural Fire Service says it expects to call on other states for help.Blame Recriminations have begun over who should take responsibility for the New SouthWales bushfires, which have ripped through Sydney’s southern suburbs and the Royal National Park.The National Parks and Wildlife Service denies it is at fault. Some evacuees are already blaming the service, claiming proper back-burning may have prevented the bushfires from spreading to surrounding homes. The service’s spokesman Brian Gilligan, says its commitment to fire hazard reduction is as strong as ever.
“In the last 12 months we have done more back-burning than we’ve been able to achieve in any year in the last five years,” Mr Gilligan said.Almost 70 per cent of the Royal National Park has been destroyed by fire. With 60 kilometre an hour winds fueling fires, the service expects most of the remaining 30 per cent to be lost by the weekend. Financial assistance Early estimates suggest the insurance bill from the fires has already reached the $50 million mark.The New South Wales Department of Community Service (DOCS) is encouraging people whose homes have been destroyed or damaged by fire to contact them for assistance.The department says it has helped more than 1,000 people since the bushfires began and established 12 evacuation centres from the Shoalhaven on south coast to the Blue Mountains. The manager for emergency services, Steve Frost, says up to 500 evacuees will behoused by DOCS tonight. However, Mr Frost says people who have lost their homes need to register with DOCS to receive accommodation or financial assistance. 
“There are a number of homes that have been burnt down across the state and I would encouraging people to makecontact,” he said. “If they could ring the State Disaster Recovery Centre on (02) 9683 2388 and register their information so that we can then work out a way to go and see them in the near future.”
Hotlines New South Wales police say a new hotline has been established for people to make inquiries about family and friends at evacuation centres. 
The number is 1800 060 243. 
Inquiries can also be made to 1800 227 228.
For information on road closures people are asked not to call 000 but the RTA on 13
27 01.


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