Bushfire threatens water supply

Bushfire threatens water supply

30 October 2006

published by tvnz.co.nz

Australia — Sydney’s drinking water is under threat from a bushfire burning out of control close to Warragamba Dam.

The fire in the Blue Mountains is expected to worsen in the next few days with the possibility of hot, windy weather set to hamper firefighting efforts.

About 100 firefighters ton Monday were winched into a remote area five kilometres from Lake Burragorang, part of the Warragamba Dam catchment which supplies 80% of the city’s drinking water.

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) says it fears debris and ash from the fire could clog the filtration system at the dam.

The blaze started on Wednesday with a lightning strike and has burnt 3,000 hectares of bushland.

Twelve water-bombing aircraft were also used to fight the fire, although no properties were immediately under threat.

The nearest township, Nattai, is 10km east of the fire but there are concerns flying embers could spark fires in backyards.

RFS spokeswoman Rebel Talbert said fire crews would stop work overnight and resume at dawn.

She said they were re-examining their strategy with the possibility of hot, dry and windy weather set to add to the problem of poor accessibility to the area.

“At this stage we don’t think we’ll have the fire contained in the next few days but that’s what we’re working towards,” Talbert said.

“It is burning really well in there and that’s purely because it’s so dry.”

The fire had not yet spread from the plateau, but there were concerns that the fire could get into the low country, she said.

“We want to keep that fire with at least a few kilometres buffer between the lake and the fire – that’s our biggest priority at the moment,” she said.

Infrared imaging technology had also been called in to help with mapping the fire and surrounding area, which was devastated by bushfires in 1997.

Successful backburning had been carried out during the day and would continue into the week, she said.

Meanwhile, fire bombing skycranes Elvis and Shania arrived in Australia today to join the summer battle with the bushfires.

The helicopters were given a quick check over before flying to their respective bases in Sydney and Melbourne.

An RFS spokesman said two more helicopters would arrive from Europe in about a week, and would be based in Canberra and Victoria.

“They are all part of the national strategy, which means they can be used interstate if they need to be,” he said.

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