Australia — Firefighters in Australia are racing against the clock to prevent a bushfire from spreading to a former weapons range littered with unexploded bombs before another heatwave hits parts of the country.
The blaze is burning 2km from the Tianjara plateau in New South Wales, which was used by the Australian army as a practice bombing range until the mid-1970s.
Officials said the fire’s path was currently playing into their “firefighting strategy” and that if necessary, they had time to put in a firebreak in the area.
However, were the flames to reach the plateau, located in the Morton National Park, it could complicate efforts, with the unexploded bombs making water-drops impossible.
“We can’t do water-bombing with aircraft or something like that in case the weight of the water , when it hits the ground, sets off any unexploded ordnance,” Rural Fire Service inspector Brett Loughlin told ABC radio.
“So it’s a total no-fly zone and that will mean (if) the fire gets into that area, there’s nothing we can do for it except wait for it on the other side.”
As well as bull-dozing containment lines, aircraft are dropping special flame resistant gel on bushland to stop it from reaching the bomb site.
Forecasters are warning more hot weather is on the way this weekend, bringing the risk of more infernos.
Fires have been raging across Australia for nearly a week and while many have been contained, over 100 are still burning and about a dozen remain out of control in the country’s most populous state, New South Wales.
A cooler weather front that brought some relief on Wednesday continued in many parts on Thursday, but temperatures are set to soar once again to well over 40 degrees Celsius on Friday, piling pressure on the emergency services.
NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said crews were working flat out to do all they could before the heat returned.
“It’s about focusing on getting as much contained and consolidated as we can ahead of a return to hotter and dryer conditions dominating much of NSW over the coming days,” he told ABC television.
“We’re looking at temperatures across much of NSW into low-to-mid 40s and extending into the high 40s on Saturday.
“The only reprieve, if you can call it that, is that we are not expecting significant wind strengths to build.
“But it is almost academic. With such hot, dry and dominant (weather) movement from the northwest, even a moderate breeze is going to be problematic and risky for communities and firefighters over the weekend.”
The blazes have burned more than 350,000 hectares (865,000 acres) of land in New South Wales alone, and while more than 100 homes were razed in Tasmania state last weekend, only a handful have been destroyed around the country since then.
No deaths have been reported.
The biggest impact has been on farmers, with vast amounts of pasture, crops and animal feed lost, as well as thousands of head of stock and agricultural infrastructure such as sheds and outbuildings.
In Yass Shire, one of the worst hit areas to the west of Canberra, a fire has so far burnt out 16,000 hectares and killed 10,000 sheep.
As well as New South Wales, fires continue to burn in the states of Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland.
Wildfires are a fact of life in arid Australia, where 173 people died in the 2009 Black Saturday firestorm, the nation’s worst natural disaster of modern times.
Meanwhile, a severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for southeast Queensland.