Firefighters gain upper hand as weather eases NSW fires threat

Firefighters gain upper hand as weather eases NSW fires threat

27 October 2013

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Australia — WINDS and temperatures eased across NSW this weekend but the Rural Fire Service was faced yesterday with the reported presence of a mystery unmanned drone that could hamper ongoing firefighting efforts.

Reportedly video footage of a bushfire from an unknown drone has been posted on YouTube.

An RFS spokesman told AAP the service had received reports of an unapproved drone hovering around Springwood, where a major bushfire has destroyed nearly 200 homes.

He said if the reports were confirmed, the service would be forced to put aerial firefighting operations in the area on hold. “The drone can obviously interfere with their operations,” the spokesman said.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority issued a warning yesterday after officials saw video footage of a remotely piloted aircraft being operated above the State Mine fire that stretches from the Blue Mountains to Lithgow.

“Flying an unapproved remotely piloted aircraft near firefighting aircraft, firefighters and firefighting vehicles is dangerous,” CASA aviation safety director John McCormick said.

Three fires continued to burn at a watch and act level in the Blue Mountains last night – the Springwood, State Mine and Mount York Road blazes. A grass fire at Timbarra in the state’s north has been downgraded to advice level.

A total 50 fires were burning across NSW last night including about 20 uncontained fires.

Firefighters have taken advantage of the cooler conditions to step up backburning efforts, which have sent smoke across the Blue Mountains and southern highlands. Showers are forecast as possible today near Sydney.

One firefighting pilot has died so far this bushfire season, though there is no suggestion a drone was involved in that incident. Father-of-three David Black died when his Dromader aircraft crashed while he was water-bombing fires in the state’s south on Thursday morning.

The 43-year-old from Trangie, NSW, has been remembered as a pilot “at the top of his game”. Scores of firefighters at Penrith Base Camp gathered to observe a moment’s silence for him yesterday morning.

Federal Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek has criticised the federal government for changing eligibility for bushfire victims to receive emergency funds as NSW communities reel from devastating fires.

“Australians certainly didn’t vote for cuts to disaster-affected communities,” Ms Plibersek told the South Australian ALP conference yesterday.

“At this time when there is so much devastation, why would you withdraw that very modest amount that governments have given in the past to support people who are affected?”

Federal government payments of $1000 per adult and $400 per child are now available to people who are injured or whose homes are destroyed or damaged in the fires.

They are being offered to affected people in the local government areas of the Blue Mountains, Lake Macquarie, Lithgow, Muswellbrook, Port Macquarie-Hastings, Port Stephens, Wingecarribee, Wyong, and Wollondilly.

But Ms Plibersek said people who had to flee the fires then return to find their home still standing but in need of serious clean-up efforts would miss out.

In contrast, she said, payments under the Labor government helped 400,000 people clean up after the 2011 Queensland floods and another 63,000 after the 2009 Victorian bushfires.

She acknowledged Prime Minister Tony Abbott had praised people fighting the fires and given personal assistance to the effort.

Earlier in the week, Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield said the eligibility changes were designed to ensure people most in need got assistance first and the government would continue to assess the situation.

Total fire bans have been declared for three South Australian districts, with conditions expected to be extreme in the state’s northwest. Bans have been declared for the Northwest Pastoral, West Coast and Eastern Eyre Peninsula districts for today, with very hazardous fire weather conditions predicted.

The total fire ban does not include Adelaide, which is expecting a mild day with a chance of rain.

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