Australia — More than 150 fire fighters are tackling a bushfire that sent five-metre flames roaring past homes in Londonderry, near Penrith, today.
One man lost $500,000 worth of work equipment and another family fended off the fire with sprinklers and wet towels as a southerly wind change drove the front eastwards at an alarming pace.
The Rural Fire Service said the fire is believed to have broken out in a patch of scrub near the intersection of Londonderry Road and Whitegates Road some time before 3pm.
Residents in the semi-rural area said the speed of the fire’s advance took them by surprise.
“I was happily here in my air conditioning cooking cakes and ironing and a girlfriend of mine, who was down the end of the street, rang and said ‘do you want me to come and get the kids?’,” Whitegates Road resident, Carol Sarkis, said.
“I said ‘what for’ and she said ‘there’s a fire out there’. It was just smoke at that stage but it didn’t take long before I could see the fire, it was coming very quickly at which time I knew it was coming.”
Mrs Sarkis, who runs a greyhound kennel on the family’s two hectare block, called a neighbour who had just picked his son up from school.
“He drove [west] down to the end of the street and there was a shed down there that was on fire but he tried to speak to the fire fighters and they said ‘don’t worry it’ll be all under control, it won’t go near your place’,” she said.
“By the time he got back from picking up his son, which was 10 to 15 minutes later, it was pretty serious.”
Mrs Sarkis, who was home with her husband and three children at the time, said it took five minutes for some “smoke in the distance” to start racing towards the family’s home.
“The wind was very hot coming straight in my face from the direction from the fire,” she said.
Another resident, a truck driver who does not want to be named, said he had lost $500,000 worth of truck and trailer gear in the blaze.
“I lost half a million dollars worth of gear out there, burnt to the ground, all uninsured,” the man said from Brisbane, where he has been stationed on a driving job.
“I’ve got one of my brothers out there and they’re trying to save the house with the hoses, hosing the ground.”
The Sarkis family lined a fire break on the western side of their property with sprinklers, while five fire fighters kept the blaze from going near the house, Mrs Sarkis said.
They also had to move 16 greyhound dogs out of their paddocks, which were razed by the fire.
“We were putting fires out with wet towels in the pup runs trying to put it out,” she said.
Police closed a section of Londonderry Road north of Smeeton Road.
The truck driver said countless residents from other parts of the suburb were trying to get through to help affected homes but police were turning them away.
“They’re letting reporters and news cameras walk right past them to get in there but they won’t let any of the people in there to save anything,” he said.
The RFS says people in the area should not try to outrun the blaze but stay indoors while the fire passes and take direction from fire crews in the area.
Fifteen crews and several water-bombing helicopters are fighting the blaze.
Residents have been asked to dress in long pants and long sleeved shirts.
Once the fire front passes, residents should make sure they’re safe and then watch out for spot fires, which can be put out with hoses and water buckets, the RFS says.
Firefighters are also warning Berowra residents to prepare their houses, as they battle to contain a large fire at Mount Ku-ring-gai before a southerly hits.
The fire began about 1pm and is thought to have resulted from lightning strikes north of Sydney.
About 150 fire personnel were sent in to attack the tail of the fire shortly after 4pm, with four helicopters and an air crane water-bombing the head of the fire.
The winds are expected to reach up to 60kmh and threaten to push the fire back down the gully and upwards towards Berowra.
NSW Fire Brigades personnel have been door-knocking people in the suburbs, telling them to prepare their houses.
The RFS is warning that the fire does have the potential to spread.
Motorists on the F3 were warned to take special care as smoke from the fire billowed across the freeway.
Rural Fire Service spokesman Inspector Ben Shepherd said the fire rushed up a gully and threatened about four factories at Gundah Road.
“The fire raced up the gully very quickly and it came right up the back of the factories,” Inspector Shepherd said. “The concrete platforms [that the factories were built on] gave us a bit of a barrier to fight it off but it was only about 10 metres away.”
Firefighters have contained two major fires, one at the Garigal National Park at East Killara, the other at Wingecarribee.
A strong and gusty southerly change is sweeping across Sydney, bringing relief from a day of scorching temperatures after the weather bureau’s forecasts for sweltering conditions were exceeded, prompting additional fire bans across large parts of the state.
Penrith peaked at 43.3 degrees at 3.20pm, the highest temperature since New Year’s Day 2006 when the mercury soared to 44.
Sydney city topped out at 33.4 degrees at 3.10pm, its highest temperature since New Year’s Day of this year.
Gusty southerly winds are now spreading north across the city causing temperatures to drop rapidly.
“Today’s remarkable heat in western Sydney was caused by northwesterly winds carrying very hot air all the way from Western Australia,” weatherzone.com.au meteorologist Matt Pearce said.
“The southerly that is currently surging across Sydney is triggering a few thunderstorms. We have had reports of hail from the North Shore and very heavy rain from a number of suburbs.”
The peak wind gust recorded so far has been 82km/h at Sydney Airport.
“There are a number of fires burning on the outskirts of Sydney this afternoon. While the cooler, more humid southerly change will help these fires in the long run, there will be a tense few hours ahead as the wind shift may cause the fires to change direction abruptly,” Pearce said.
Much more comfortable weather is on the way over the next few days, with the temperatures falling back into the mid 20s.
Total fire bans are now in place in the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter, Illawarra/Shoalhaven and Southern Ranges regions, the spokesman said.
“The Bureau of Meteorology has advised that initial forecasts have been exceeded already today and that a number of areas across the state are now expected to experience extreme fire danger,” the RFS said.
The additional fire bans are on top of previously declared bans for the Lower Central West Plains, Southern Slopes, Eastern Riverina, Northern Riverina and Far Western regions.