Canberra has passed its forewarned “worst day” for bushfires in better shape than what the most grim predictions envisioned.
- Properties have been lost and one-fifth of the ACT burned in the Orroral Valley and Clear Range bushfires
- Fears of more widespread devastation yesterday did not come to pass
- The fires remain out of control and will burn for weeks
It was still a difficult and painful day for locals and firefighters.
Late yesterday the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) confirmed properties were lost in Bumbalong, a rural area between the NSW villages of Bredbo and Michelago.
The fire south of Canberra continues to burn out of control in Namadgi National Park, and remains unpredictable and threatening.
It has already burned more than one-fifth of the territory’s landscape, and a breakout fire, known as Clear Range, has burned thousands more hectares in the Monaro plains.
But fears yesterday that it could wipe out the township of Tharwa and enter Canberra’s southernmost suburbs did not eventuate.
With hot but milder conditions today, and the fire nearest to the city — known as the Orroral Valley blaze — downgraded to watch and act yesterday, the ACT was given some relief.
However, ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Georgeina Whelan warned there were still difficult days ahead.
“The next 24 hours are going to be very challenging for us indeed, probably the most challenging the ACT has seen this entire fire season,” Commissioner Whelan said.
“We may get thunderstorms … we could see some very challenging conditions, and certainly some very intense firefighting in the next 24 hours.”
‘A little bit of hell’ burns across NSW southern slopes
Even for those who may not have lost homes or assets, the fires that fell upon Michelago, Colinton and Bredbo in New South Wales yesterday were a terrifying ordeal.
In Michelago, resident John Casey, who stayed to defend his home, was forced to take shelter due to the Clear Range fire’s intensity.
“We went to our evacuation point, which was the yabbie dam. It came over very very black and we couldn’t even see each other,” Mr Casey said.
“We decided that was no good either, so we bolted out the front where the fire trucks were — scared-est I’ve ever been in my life.”
John Murphy, who was at the yabbie dam with Mr Casey, said he believed the fire had destroyed his home.
“It was coming over so fast that we had to leave,” he said.
“Twenty-eight years worth of gardens, big hedges, manicured lawn, tennis court, six-bedroom house — you can only hope.”
Kim in Bumbalong, where properties were destroyed, told ABC Radio Canberra he was aware of about five homes that were lost.
“We knew it was going to happen, if it wasn’t today it would have been tomorrow … we were a bit fatalistic about it,” he said.
“But if you’re going to live in a little piece of heaven, you’ve got to experience a little bit of hell to appreciate it.”
The Clear Range fire has so far burned through more than 5,200 hectares and is currently at advice warning level.
The Monaro Highway is open, however police have said it could be closed at short notice.
‘Hard work ahead’ as fire edges towards Tharwa
A state of emergency and total fire ban remain in place for the ACT.
The Orroral Valley fire has left the foothills of Mt Tennent and is burning 1.2 kilometres from Tharwa and 6km from the southern Canberra suburb of Gordon.
“We’re just teasing this fire out, but we’ve got a really solid fire edge and we’ve got a very effective buffer,” Commissioner Whelan said.
“It’s going to be hard work firefighting this morning so we can really protect that fire line.”
The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted showers for today but has also warned of the chance of a thunderstorm with gusty winds.
Commissioner Whelan said locals needed to remain “alert but not alarmed” as the fire could return to emergency level.
“As we know this fire has its own characteristics, its own personality and its own bad behaviours so it could be quite erratic,” she said.
The blaze has so far burned through more than 55,000 hectares but the ESA has revealed that fire fighting efforts have saved some historic sites in Namadgi, including the Indigenous rock art at Yankee Hat, Hospital Creek Hut, Max and Bert Oldfield’s Hut and Gudgenby Homestead.
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