Thousands of peak-hour commuters were stranded when a bushfire forced theclosure of major rail and road links north from Sydney on a day ofrecord-breaking heat and strong winds.
The F3 Freeway, the Old Pacific Highway and the rail lines between Sydney,the Central Coast and Newcastle were all closed shortly after 4pm (AEST) afterfire broke out near Cowan, on Sydney’s northern outskirts.
The blaze on three hectares of bushland was fanned by strong, gusty winds inthe 35 degree heat – the hottest early spring day in 148 years.
The F3 and the rail lines reopened at 6.20pm, but thousands of commuters willexperience flow-on delays throughout the evening.
Many of the stranded motorists and rail commuters were directed to Hornsbyand Gosford RSL clubs to wait out the delays.
Rural Fire Service (RFS) spokesman Murray Hillan said the roads and raillines were closed due to the smoke risk from the Cowan fire, which has now beencontained.
“All of the small outbreaks that have come up throughout the afternoonhave now been contained,” Mr Hillan said.
Mr Hillan said the Cowan fire was one of about 10 bushfires which were ofmajor concern to firefighters in extremely windy and hot conditions.
A total of more than 40 fires were burning throughout the state.
Firefighters focused their efforts on a blaze south of Evans Head on the farnorth coast, several fires in the Port Stephens area, north of Newcastle, and atWest Head, just north of Sydney.
The bushfire threat to homes in the Swan Bay area of Port Stephens in NSW haseased as winds abate.
Firefighters were close to containing a fire front that continued to burnwithin 50 metres of three rural properties on Moffatt Road at Swan Bay, north ofNewcastle.
Hot, gusty conditions had hampered firefighters trying to save the homes, butthe easing of winds allowed them to stave off the immediate threat.
A large bulldozer has been trucked to the scene and was to work through thenight to carve a firebreak between the flames and the houses.
The Swan Bay blaze was one of three spot fires that broke out today from amajor fire still burning in the Port Stephens area.
The blaze has burnt more than 1,800 hectares of land in the Lower Hunterregion near Dungog, Boonabilla, Port Stephens, Anna Bay, Fingal Bay and OysterCove.
Fire crews spent much of today going door-to-door helping residents securetheir homes against the fire front.
A bushfire at Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains, and another at OxfordFalls, in Sydney’s north, and the Cowan blaze rounded out the areas wherefirefighting efforts were most concentrated.
Five RFS units and a NSW Fire Brigades strike force were deployed to theWentworth Falls blaze about 3pm (AEST).
The RFS said the blaze was contained and no property was under threat.
Crews also battled a fire by air and ground at Oxford Falls at the corner ofOxford Falls Road and Spicer Road, near the Wakehurst Parkway.
The fire was burning uncontained, but firefighters expect to control ittonight, Mr Hillan said.
Bushfires breached containment lines in several areas today, Mr Hillan said.
A small fire was burning remotely at Mulgoa, about 65km west of Sydney, butit did not pose a threat, he said.
Fires were also burning at the Holsworthy Army Barracks in south-westernSydney, and in the Wyong region on the Central Coast.
RFS Assistant Commissioner Rob Rogers said a southerly change was predictedfor later tonight.
“Between 8pm (AEST) and 9pm the southerly change will come throughSydney and that will obviously ease conditions and the temperature will cool andthe wind will abate after the initial change,” he told Channel Ten.
“Tomorrow is supposed to be very benign conditions and that will help usget containment on those fires on which we do need to get containment.
“We’re looking at a very bad day again on Saturday so obviouslyfirefighters will be working very hard to get good containment lines on thesefires ahead of Saturday.”
Two 11-year-old boys were being questioned by police over the Wentworth Fallsfire, a NSW police spokeswoman said.
The Old Pacific Highway remained closed at 7pm (AEST), the RTA said.