Military may join NSW firefighting effort

Military may join NSW firefighting effort

21 October 2013

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Australia — Every resource NSW can muster – including possibly the military – is being sent to fight the Blue Mountains bushfires, as fears grow that a mega-fire could form.

While there are 56 fires still active across the state on Monday – 12 uncontained – the focus is the large State Mine fire near Lithgow.

Residents in the township of Bell were on Monday morning again urged to evacuate ahead of temperatures in the mid-30s, low humidity and problematic winds around 25km/h.

The great concern in the region west of Sydney is the chance of a mega-fire forming in worsening conditions on Wednesday.

NSW Emergency Service Minister Mike Gallacher says northwesterly winds could push the large fire into two others – and towards more populated areas like Katoomba and Leura, and western Sydney.

Mr Gallacher says the conditions are forecast to be similar to those seen last Thursday, when the emergency began.

Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons concedes it’s a possibility.

“I don’t think I’ve ever used the word mega-fire,” he said.

“But the reality is that the modelling indicates that there’s every likelihood that in the forecast weather conditions that these two fires, particularly up in the back end of the mountains, will merge at some point.”

The NSW government declared a state of emergency on Sunday, but Mr Gallacher said none of the powers had been used yet.

They give authorities the okay to force evacuations, and even destroy buildings that pose a danger.

Premier Barry O’Farrell said no one wanted to force people to abandon their homes, but it could be necessary to ensure everyone’s safety.

“We know there is understandable heartache about leaving property perhaps vulnerable. But if it’s a choice between property or lives we should always go for lives,” he told the Nine Network.

Mr Gallacher assured the public “everything is being thrown at this” fire, with 189 interstate firefighters helping out.

Clearly more will be needed, and the minister is touring the area with Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan on Monday ahead of the military possibly joining the effort this week.

“This is really high level,” Mr Gallacher told ABC radio.

“We’ll have access to tankers that can assist in terms of aviation fuel, whatever firefighting equipment that they have as well.

“It is a question of sitting down with every one of the authorities that potentially has a resource that we can get access to.”

Fire authorities from around the country will have a phone hook-up to assess what further assistance is needed from interstate.

An emergency alert telephone warning message was sent to the community of Bell on Sunday, and the RFS reissued the advice on Monday morning.

“The community of Bell are advised to leave now if not prepared and travel west along the Bells Line of Road towards Lithgow.”

The Lithgow Workers Club is open as an evacuation centre.

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