Australia — A Sydney mother who fled the Olympic Park Aquatic Centre with her 11-year-old daughter on Sunday as flames ripped through a nearby car park said the centre should have been evacuated earlier.
The fire, which destroyed 43 vehicles and damaged another 30, is believed to have begun as a grass fire about 3pm. Fire officials are investigating whether a discarded cigarette started the blaze.
Nicola Tonuri, whose daughter was competing in swimming races, said she saw flames about 20 metres from the swimmers’ marshalling area and as soon as her daughter’s race finished about 3pm, they ran to the family car to escape. Tyres were popping like fireworks as they left, she said, and her daughter was terrified, screaming and fearing they would be engulfed in flames.
Ms Tonuri managed to drive away before the roads were closed and called other parents inside the centre to warn them to leave. More than 1500 people were later evacuated.
Luckily we were both safe, but I had friends whose cars were damaged or destroyed, she said.
It was a really hot day, when youve got half of the western suburbs there. Cars can be replaced, but it could have been potentially so much worse.
She said some people in the aquatic centre were evacuated to a nearby hotel, where they remained until about 8pm on Sunday.
Fire and Rescue NSW Superintendent Ian Krimmer said the cause of the Olympic Park fire had not been determined but one possibility was that a cigarette had sparked the fire.
Explosions could be heard from the athletic centre, where the 2013 Buffalo Sports NSW All Schools Championships were taking place.
Todd Fordham, from the central coast, said he saw at least five cars in flames, which caused explosions and thick billowing of smoke.
”I could hear explosions every 20 minutes,” Mr Fordham said. ”There were either tyres popping or petrol tanks exploding.
”There was a bit of smoke and it just got bigger and bigger,” he said. ”[The flames were] as big as a power pole at one stage It was pretty scary. There was a lot of wind and smoke and popping explosions.”
Police said the owners of the cars were being kept at the aquatic centre on Sunday evening. ”It’s still not deemed safe and we can’t let people get to their cars,” a spokesman said.
The drivers were being urged to catch public transport home. Three people were treated for smoke inhalation.
Hot winds and high temperatures also had hundreds of firefighters battling six major fires across the state.
Authorities evacuated people in Port Stephens after three big fires scorched swaths of the popular holiday district. An evacuation centre was set up at a community hall in Williamtown.
But heavy rain on Sunday night allowed firefighters to get the upper hand.
On Monday morning, the Rural Fire Service said a bushfire continued to burn to the west of Fingal Bay, but there was no threat to properties and firefighters were working to consolidate containment lines.
Up to five properties had been damaged or destroyed in a blaze at Salt Ash on Sunday night, forcing authorities to close a main thoroughfare to the peninsula, but firefighters were working to strengthen containment lines on Monday morning. They warned local residents that there could be road closures in the area.
A large fire was also burning near Hanks Street in the Heatherbrae area. On Monday morning, the fire was 190 hectares in size and was out of control.
Residents were asked to monitor the fire situation and take direction from firefighters on the ground.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons urged residents to stay safe and to keep the roads clear for emergency services rushing to fight the fires on the peninsula.
Its a very dynamic [and] volatile situation at the moment, he said on Sunday night.
[The fire is] burning very aggressively and its crossing roads up there.
At Webbs Creek, near Wisemans Ferry, more than five aircraft and 100 firefighters fought a large bushfire that had burnt up to 180 hectares of bush by Sunday night.
Light rain fell across affected areas on Sunday night and on Monday morning about 60 firefighters were working to strengthen containment lines.