Australia — KEITH Audsley was powerless to help as Tuesday’s inferno tore through his family’s property at Marsden Park, in northwest Sydney, gutting his caravan and destroying precious family photos.
Surveying the mangled wreckage yesterday, he said he had been stuck behind a traffic roadblock while his possessions were being ravaged.
“They wouldn’t let me through. That was frustrating, very frustrating,” Mr Audsley said.
“It’s taken so long to build this (much wealth), it’s going to take forever to get it back.”
Last night, there were still 110 bushfires burning around NSW, including 26 uncontrolled blazes, in what is one of the earliest starts to the bushfire season on record.
The Marsden Park property, which doubled as a panelbeating yard, owned by Mr Audsley’s relative David Robinson, was the only home destroyed by Tuesday’s fires. Firefighters were treated for burns and smoke inhalation they suffered while saving a home at Winmalee, in the Blue Mountains.
The Rural Fire Service last night remained unsure what caused the fires. Theories included arson and out-of-control hazard reduction burning.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said controlled burn-offs were essential before summer “because the alternative is disaster”.
“We are deliberately encouraging as much hazard reduction as possible,” he said.
“When you don’t undertake hazard reduction you leave the fuel load as it is and it grows and that’s even more lethal.”
Mr O’Farrell described as “just appalling” a report that looters had raided one resident’s fire-damaged home and stolen a laptop computer.
“I think everyone in their heart knows what we’d like to do to that person, and we hope they’re caught by police,” he said.
Mr Audsley had lived on the Marsden Park block, owned by Mr Robinson, his wife Helen’s uncle, until recently, when he moved to Windsor.
Mr Robinson had been panel-beating and respraying cars on the vacant block, and also sleeping there at night.
The fire claimed almost all of Mr Robinson’s possessions, including his “pride and joy”, a 1981 Holden Statesman WB.
Weatherwatch meteorologist Don White said there would be “temporary good news” as northwesterly winds subside on the NSW coast.
However, he warned the bushfire risk would increase next month. “The current weather pattern is one of constantly changing a little bit, rather than being consistent,” he said.
“It’s wet (allowing vegetation to grow) and then dry (turning it into fuel).
“The more days we have above 35 degrees, the more days we’ll have with high bushfire potential.
“Saturday and Monday were both over 31 degrees in Sydney. There have been four of those over the last 160 years of records, and two were this week.”
Fire and Rescue NSW defended leaving five Sydney metropolitan fire stations unattended on Tuesday, as the firefighters were redeployed to assist the bushfire effort.
Fire Brigade Employees Union secretary Jim Casey said that the incident demonstrated the system was “under strain” and claimed state budget cuts were responsible for the temporary closures.
Fire and Rescue NSW said all stations were back online by 2.30pm on Tuesday after off-duty staff were called in.