Evacuations as bushfires in Sydney’s west engulf homes

Evacuations as bushfires in Sydney’s west engulf homes

10 September 2013

published by www.theaustralian.com.au

Australia — The NSW Rural Fire Service says one house has been lost at Hawkesbury Road at Winmalee, in the Blue Mountains, and two firefighters battling the blaze there suffered minor burns.

A second house has been confirmed lost in Marsden Park in the Blacktown area, in Sydney’s west.

Five firefighters have been treated for smoke inhalation.

RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said having so many fires in such a concentrated area around Sydney’s greater west was a challenge.

“As far as the crow flies they’re all not that far apart,” he told Fairfax Radio.

“Unfortunately I think we’ll probably see some more losses before the end of the day.”

Briefing parliament today, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said 59 bush and grassfires were burning across NSW with more than 500 firefighters and 200 fire engines on the ground.

“(There is) one confirmed report of a house lost in Hawkesbury Road, unconfirmed reports of two injured firefighters at the same location,” he told parliament today.

“This is an ongoing situation.”

The RFS later confirmed five firefighters suffered smoke inhalation and two received minor burns fighting the Winmalee blaze.

Firefighters are battling 40 uncontained blazes as 59 bush and grassfires burn across NSW, causing the evacuation of homes and a western Sydney university campus.

Mr O’Farrell told parliament a number of emergency warnings are in place across the state, with four fires at a watch-and-act level.

“Strong, gusty north-westerly winds continue to effect the firegrounds which are not expected to abate until later this evening,” Mr O’Farrell said.

“A southerly change is expected to come through Greater Sydney Basin between 5 and 7pm.”

He said there was a number of emergency warnings in place across the state, with four fires at watch and act level.

The worst blazes are at Tickner Road in Castlereagh, where a 60-hectare grass fire is threatening homes, and a three-hectare fire at Bennett and Richmond Roads in Windsor.

There are also fires at Marsden Park, Winmalee, Wollombi, Lane Cove and Leets Vale.

The RFS has issued emergency warnings for fires around the greater Sydney region including Marsden Park and Windsor.

The warm 50km/h winds fanning the fire are likely to ease this evening, a Bureau of Meteorology spokesman said.

“(Today) was certainly the hottest and windiest (day) of the week,” she said.

It hit 32 degrees in Sydney today but temperatures tomorrow will be about 10 degrees cooler and winds will calm to about 30km/h.

“It will be a significantly different day.”

Police Minister Mike Gallacher is being escorted by police under lights and sirens to a briefing with the RFS at Homebush.

Earlier, more than 2000 people were evacuated from a University of Western Sydney campus after a power outage.

UWS said the power outage had affected the entire Richmond region, with bushfires preventing repairs.

“The University of Western Sydney’s Hawkesbury campus in Richmond has been closed this afternoon due to a power outage in the region,” it said.

“As a precaution students and staff have been sent home.”

In Castlereagh about 300 students from St Paul’s Grammar School were evacuated to Penrith’s Whitewater Park after an emergency warning was issued for a fire threatening properties on nearby Devlin Street.

The school’s principal Paul Kidson said he and a small number of fire-trained staff remained at the school.

“Human lives were always more important than property,” he told ABC radio.

Police assisted the evacuation.

However the RFS is advising parents not to try and pick up their children from the centre as fires are still burning in the area.

In Windsor, the fire burning at Bennett Road had crossed Richmond Road and entered Windsor Downs Nature Reserve, the RFS said.

It said there have been unconfirmed reports of property losses along Hawkesbury Road in Winmalee, in the Blue Mountains.

Winamalee High School is being used as an evacuation centre for residents of the small Blue Mountains town of Hawkesbury Heights.

“All of our children were able to be bused out at the normal time,” a spokeswoman at the school said.

“The school is being used as an evacuation centre for Hawkesbury Heights.”

All children had left the school and were safe, she said.

Hot winds continued to fan the fires in Castlereagh, which were threatening homes and livestock.

The RFS and police have blocked off streets in the suburb as firefighters try to control the blaze spilling over from Tinkler Rd to surrounding streets and several properties.

Sisters Melinda and Samantha Millard, from Horsley Park, rushed to Castlereagh to help their horse trainer only to be told it was too dangerous.

“I got a call from my friend saying ‘get up here and help me now’,” Melinda said.

“By the time we got here it was too late.”

Samantha said the area had a high concentration of fields and horses.

“It’s a big horse area, everyone’s got horses here.”

Melinda said her friends were at the heart of the fire zone trying to save their horse training stable.

“It’s scary, it’s not even my place, but knowing it could go any minute now is making me really emotional” she said.

“We want to help people and the animals.”

Residents from Windsor in Sydney’s northwest are confronting a bushfire just metres from their homes.

Smoke billowed over Windsor Downs Nature Reserve as water bombing helicopters and crews battled grass fires fanned by winds up to 80km/h.

Sanctuary Drive residents Michael and Sandra Bellamy left work to return home and protect their house when they realised there was actually a fire in the reserve bordering their property.

“I got a text message from my daughter saying that I should probably go home,” Ms Bellamy said.

However, police road closures prevented her from reaching the family home, where they have lived for 19 years.

“I wasn’t allowed in. Then my neighbour came by in the car and said, ‘quick, get in’ and I jumped in,” she said.

Her husband Michael is confident firefighters will be able to contain the bushfire, one of more than 50 burning across NSW driven by the winds and temperatures up to 32 degrees.

“These guys are here to stop it in its track if it does come this way,” he said.

“The wind is a bit of a worry, it’s swirling around a lot. We don’t know where it will end up, and we’re still not sure.”

Many residents had fireproofed their properties ahead of bushfire season, he said.

“I have got a pretty good fire plan set up here and we’re ready to protect the house. I just wanted to make sure I was here to protect the house.”

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