Arsonists lit the fires that ignited bushfire season north of Sydneyyesterday, as New South Wales braced for worse to come.
One home was destroyed and several other properties were damaged at PortStephens. Hundreds of fire fighters and four water-bombing helicopters battledto contain the blaze.
“We’ve got an arsonist running around this afternoon,” said RuralFire Service Lower Hunter group captain Bert Pipan, who commanded about 30 firefighting units from across the Hunter region.
“It’s spread us very thin,” Mr Pipan said. “The long weekendhasn’t helped, either, in regard to getting crews here.”
One of those fighting the flames around Oyster Cove, Mervyn Hartigan, wascalled back to his own home in Salt Ash, near Port Stephens, when it wasthreatened by fire.
Mr Hartigan only had time to make sure his son, Woody, 15, and his formerwife, Catherine, who was staying with them, were safe, and grab a fewpossessions before the house burnt to the ground.
“We didn’t get everything out it just came so quick,” said MrHartigan, whose property was not insured. Several sheds and a water tank onnearby properties were also destroyed.
Dozens of residents fled the flames. The local RSL club at Port Stephens wasturned into an emergency relief centre to accommodate them.
Mr Pipan said last night that the fires were likely to have been started byarsonists, who were also believed to be responsible for a spate of recent smallfires in the region.
High temperatures and dry winds fanned the flames at Port Stephens, but bylast night those fires and others at Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park and theRoyal National Park were contained. But fire crews were preparing for furtherfires today, with temperatures expected to reach the 30s and further coastalwinds possible.