SW firefighters have fought two major bushfires in a disturbing start to theofficial bushfire season.
More than 230 firefighters and three water-bombing aircraft were working tocontrol blazes near Mt Kuring-gai, north of Sydney, and another near PortStephens, north of Newcastle.
The Port Stephens fire has claimed homes in the villages of Salt Ash andOyster Cove, NSW Fire Service spokesman Murray Hillan said.
“There are reports of two properties lost with a potential threat toothers,” Mr Hillan said.
“It’s a fire of about 150 hectares (in size) and we’ve got threeaircraft on it and about 100 firefighters.”
Mr Hillan later said it was believed that only one house may have been lostin the blaze, although a number of sheds and other outbuildings had beendestroyed.
“There have been mixed reports but only one house we think at this stageat Oyster Cove,” he said.
He said fire crews were concentrating on back burning and getting containmentlines in place.
“Both the wind and the temperature have dropped a lot which has helped,”he said.
He said residents of Oyster Cove had been evacuated to the local RSL andsporting club at the height of the blaze on Monday afternoon.
The other major fire was burning in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park,north of Sydney, where 130 firefighters were battling to establish control linesover an area of about 140 hectares.
“It is burning in fairly rugged bushland,” Mr Hillan said.
About 60 campers had been moved out of the national park’s Basin Reservecamping area, which lies in the fire’s path, but no property was in danger.
Strong westerly winds had pushed the fire across West Head Rd, with the blazeexpected to burn itself out as it headed towards the ocean.
A third fire burning in the Royal National Park, south of Sydney, was broughtunder control earlier on Monday.
About five hectares of rugged bushland was burnt out near Bundeena after theblaze broke out shortly after midnight (AEST).
Newly appointed NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said adoubling of the expected wind speed, and a reduction in humidity, had caused therapid spread of the fires.
However, easing winds later on Monday night should ease some of the pressureon firefighters, he said.
“We’re expecting to see wind continue into this evening, up until atleast midnight, when it should abate somewhat and allow the firefighters to getthe upper hand in establishing their containment lines, and continuing toprotect property, particularly up in the Port Stephens area,” MrFitzsimmons told Network Ten.
Mr Fitzsimmons said the cause of the fires were “highly suspicious”,with arson a possibility.
“We’ll be conducting investigations into those fires and working closelywith the police to identify what the likely emission source was,” he said.
“In the absence of lightning you can’t help but assume that they arevery suspicious.”
Mr Hillan said it was concerning to see such fires on the first day of theofficial bushfire season.
“What it shows us is a day of hot windy weather will bring on thebushfires.”
“People might have thought that with the recent rain that we had that wemight be in for a bit of respite.
“But I think, just one day of hot windy weather shows that bushfires arecapable of starting up and moving on.
“We’ve had a lot of growth that has come with the rain, and with thedrought the ground is dry and the moisture gets sucked up very, very quickly.”