Fire-weary residents too terrified to sleep

Fire-weary residents too terrified to sleep

20 November 2009

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Australia– As bushfires burn across three states and temperatures soar past 40 degrees in areas with catastrophic fire warnings, some residents say they are too afraid to let down their guard.

Dozens of fires are burning in the north and central west of New South Wales and on Sydney’s northern outskirts.

Two homes are on fire in New South Wales – one at Castle Cove on Sydney’s north shore and at Campbelltown, in Sydney’s south-west.

The NSW Fire Brigade believes the homes may have caught fire after being struck by lightning.

Superintendent Ian Krimmer from the Fire Brigade says fire crews are on the scene and there are no reports of any injuries.

Five blazes are still causing concern at Inverell, Narrabri in the Hawkesbury region and two at Glen Innes.

The fire at Inverell, which is burning about six kilometres away from the village of Gilgai, has burnt out about 2,600 hectares of scrub over several days.

One woman living in the area who did not wish to be named was frustrated at the lack of communication with local residents.

She says she is worried she may not be given enough notice to defend her 11-acre property and livestock.

“We’re about 2.2 kilometres away [from the fire]. All we can see is smoke,” she said.

“We have the sprinklers going non-stop. All we can do is pray. I’m exhausted and terrified to sleep. We all are.”

Bracing for fire

Pamela Ellis lives about 2.5 kilometres outside of Gilgai. She says the fire front is further away from her property today and it seems as though fire crews are managing to contain it.

But she says residents have been told via radio to activate their bushfire safety plan.

“We’ve been told to have anything we want to take with us if we have to leave and making sure the house is locked up and possibly fill our gutters with water,” she said.

“But water’s a problem out here with us though. Some people have town water – we do which is really good – but a lot of these people who live further back in the bush don’t, and most of us have got dry dams.”

Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says that with today’s conditions it is not safe for residents to defend homes under threat.

“Simply be smart. Plan your day. Plan to go to town. Go to a friend’s place who doesn’t live in a bushfire-prone area. Go to the pool,” he said.

“Do something for the heat of the day to avoid being in a bushfire-prone area, just to give you the best chance of survival.

“The difficulty in catastrophic conditions is that homes may not provide the safety they would at lower levels.”

Commissioner Fitzsimmons says the weather there is creating very dangerous conditions, but residents and fire-crews in the area have been lucky so far.

“But clearly we’ve got several hours to run yet and with some of the frontal activity moving through parts of south-western New South Wales, we are clearly concerned about dry lightning and the potential for fire ignitions as the result of that storm activity,” he said.

There are 200 firefighters on the ground and more teams are on standby across the state, while almost 20 aircraft are helping battle the blazes.

Strong winds have helped push the warning to catastrophic for the lower central west plains, northern and southern Riverina, south-western and far western regions. Elsewhere the danger is extreme or severe.

Total fire bans remain in place across much of the state until midnight tomorrow night.

Homes under threat

A number of houses and shacks at Dolphin Sands near Swansea on Tasmania’s east coast are under threat from a bushfire which is being fanned by strong winds.

The Fire Service saysa house at Dolphin Sands has been burnt but it is not known if anyone was home at the time.

About eight fire crews are working on the blaze and more are on their way.

Dolphin Sands Road is closed and some residents cannot return to their properties.

Ken Burns from the Fire Service says people who are in their homes are being advised by fire officers.

“There’s fire in and around a number of properties and our firefighters have had to take action to defend some properties,” he said.

Aurora Energy says the fire has burnt through a power pole, causing about 1,200 households to lose power.

Meanwhile the Fire Service is confident a fire near St Helens on Tasmania’s east coast will be brought within containment lines soon.

Cool change

A severe fire danger continues across parts of Victoria but a cool change is moving across the state.

The change brought wind gusts of up to 100 kilometres an hour to Melbourne, causing damage to powerlines and bringing down trees.

In one incident, a fallen tree trapped a man in his truck near Yarra Junction.

Police say traffic lights are out across many parts of the city.

Ted Williams from the weather bureau says the winds brought a dramatic cold change.

“The temperature went from 38 to the low- to mid-20s all very briefly, and the strong gusts with that front were very localised,” he said.

The cool change has brought light rain to the Cobbobonee National Park near Heywood in the state’s south west, where a bushfire is burning.

The fire was started by lightning and has been contained to 180 hectares.

Tourists are being advised to avoid the region and residents who are not at home are being told to stay away.

The Country Fire Authority (CFA) has sent 16 tankers to the blaze and is using bulldozers and water bombing aircraft to control the blaze.

A 40-hectare fire in a pine plantation at Dorodong, north-west of Casterton, is yet to be contained.

Soothing rain

South Australia’s Country Fire Service (CFS) says most fires in the state are now contained.

It says cooler weather and rain are also helping abate the dozens of fires that were sparked by more than 20,000 lightning strikes across the state over the past 24 hours.

A fire in the Spring Gully Conservation Park near Clare has been brought under control after it threatened about 20 homes earlier this morning.

While it is now contained, crews will continue to monitor the fire along with others in the southern Flinders Ranges between Wilmington and Crystal Brook.

Port Augusta CFS spokesman Bluey Devine says the fires in the Flinders Ranges have been hard to access and a water bomber aircraft has been used.

More than 2,000 volunteer firefighters have helped battled the blazes across the state.

CFS spokesman Euan Ferguson says people from local communities have also helped out.

“In many areas, farmers with their firefighting utes, their little utes with tanks on the back, have been absolutely outstanding in initially responding to these fires and assisting CFS,” he said.

One firefighter near Kingston has been treated for injuries and five people were injured yesterday when two CFS trucks collided during a blaze on Yorke Peninsula.

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