Nation on alert as bushfires spread, Gillard warns NSW residents to be vigilant

Prince Charles donates to Tasmania bushfire appeal

10 January 2013

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Australia — Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, have donated to the Tasmanian bushfires appeal as a number of large fires continue to burn in the state.

The Red Cross Tasmania Bushfires Appeal has topped $A1.6 million ($2 million), including what the organisation described as a significant donation from the Prince of Wales.

Charles and Camilla made a five-hour stopover in the island state in November as part of their tour to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations last year.

The Prince of Wales and the Queen have both sent messages of support to those affected by the fires, which have destroyed 130 properties and burnt 110,000 hectares since last Thursday.

A number of large bushfires continue to burn, but most of the state’s 30 bushfires were downgraded on Wednesday evening.

A watch and act alert remains in place for the 22,800-hectare fire between Forcett and the Tasman Peninsula in the state’s southwest.

Tasmania Fire Service acting station officer for state operations, Paul Symington, said advice alerts were in place for eight other fires with Forcett the major concern on Thursday.

He said firefighters were working to deepen containment lines amid better weather conditions on Thursday ahead of a hot day expected on Friday and said residents in affected areas should remain vigilant.

“Even though conditions at the moment have calmed down a little bit, that doesn’t mean that people can become complacent,” Symington told AAP.

“They still need to be vigilant, still monitor the websites and the radios because if things do change, they need to be on top of it.”

With the Forcett fire, people in the Kellevie, Bream Creek, Eaglehawk Neck, Pirates Bay, Doo Town, Old Jetty Road and Blowhole Road areas are advised to remain vigilant to changing weather conditions.

Red Cross Tasmania executive director Ian Burke said support for the appeal had been overwhelming with contributions from individuals, families, state governments, community groups and corporations.

Burke said the Red Cross was working with the Tasmanian government to establish an independent committee to oversee the distribution of funds.

Fight to control fires before heat returns

Temperatures are forecast to be in the high 20s in much of Tasmania on Friday, with Hobart to reach 28C and Richmond 29C.

Firefighters are battling to get on top of multiple blazes across NSW before temperatures surge and winds whip up to create another round of high fire danger conditions.

Cooler weather has given fire crews a break since catastrophic fire conditions hit on Tuesday, enabling them to get on top of many blazes.

But the Bureau of Meteorology is predicting a return of heatwave conditions across large parts of the state from Friday.

At midday on Thursday, the Rural Fire Service (RFS) had no emergency or watch and act alerts in place, but 17 fires out of 120 across NSW were uncontained, with around 370,000 hectares burnt.

The fires in the state have caused an estimated $A1 million ($1.2million) in stock losses, with an estimated 10,000 sheep killed.

Farm sheds, fences and power poles have been burnt, but only one home has been lost, at Yarrabin in the Cooma-Monaro region.

On Thursday, more than 100 firefighters were working to contain the Deans Gap fire burning to the south of Sussex Inlet, in the Shoalhaven.

It has burned through 5700 hectares and coastal village residents have been urged to remain vigilant as the fire risk builds towards the weekend.

“We need to get a really good handle on that fire before high fire danger conditions return,” an RFS spokeswoman said.

The Yarrabin fire burning in the Kybeyan Valley was still uncontained after burning through 9400 hectares and firefighters were working to protect rural properties under threat.

Another uncontained fire at Cobblers Road, 10km west of Yass, has slowed and while not threatening properties, it is approaching an electricity transmission line.

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said a lot of work remained to be done into Thursday night ahead of the hotter weather.

“It is going to be hot, we’re looking indicatively at this stage at low 40s to mid-40s across much of the state tomorrow,” he told Macquarie Radio.

He said temperatures in the mid-40s and high 40s were expected in western areas on Saturday with heat still around on Sunday.

“Fortunately though, at this stage, all the indicators are we’re not expecting the sorts of catastrophic conditions that we experienced back on Tuesday.”

But Fitzsimmons said wide areas of the state would experience high, severe and even extreme fire danger conditions.

That included NSW’s north down through some the Great Dividing Range, the eastern seaboard and into the Riverina.

Meanwhile, police are continuing to investigate a fire near Lithgow, in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, which destroyed about 40,000 hectares on Wednesday.

It’s believed to have been deliberately lit.

Crews confident of holding Vic bushfires

Total fire bans have been declared for the whole state Victoria on Friday, with temperatures tipped to hit 42C in northern parts of the state and winds of up to 40km/h forecast.

While conditions won’t be as severe as last Friday, authorities are on high alert with two major blazes already going in southwestern and central Victoria.

At Kentbruck, near Portland, fire crews are spending Thursday making sure containment lines along the 6500-hectare fire are strong and reducing fuel, Country Fire Authority operations officer David Harris told AAP.

He is cautiously optimistic the fire will not run out of control on Friday.

“We are as confident as you can be, but I suppose you need to qualify that remark with the fact that we are experiencing severe fire danger tomorrow and having such a large fire already in the landscape, there is always the potential for it to escape,” Harris said from the state control centre in Melbourne.

Nine houses, including the 120-year-old historic Carngham Station homestead, were destroyed in the Carngham blaze on Tuesday.

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