2 February 2020

UPDATED: Conditions ease at nightfall as Orroral blaze is within two kilometres of Tharwa

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Flames travel down Mt Tennent

As flames travel down Mt Tennent, a drop of retardant now forms a defensive perimeter to slow the fire. Photo: ACT ESA.

UPDATE – February 1, 11 pm: Conditions have eased across the firegrounds to Canberra’s immediate south after a hard-fought day across inaccessible terrain. However, the Orroral Valley blaze came within two kilometres of Tharwa and at one stage ignited mulch near the Namadgi Visitor’s Centre.

ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan told media during the evening update at ESA headquarters that “multiple containment strategies” had been used to protect Tharwa this afternoon.

These included new fire trails, extensive retardant lines, and cleared areas enabling ground-based firefighter attack. Firefighting resources had been extensively deployed around Tharwa to protect both the village and south Tuggeranong suburbs, Commissioner Whelan said.

Containment lines have also been prepared between Tharwa and Gordon, and Commissioner Whelan said that all historic structures within Namadgi, including the alpine huts, are still safe.

However NSW Rural Fire Service community liaison officer Beth Slender said that it’s likely property has been lost in the area between Bredbo and Michelago, which came under sustained ember attack from the Clear Range offshoot fire earlier today. That fire remains at emergency level.

The Orroral Valley bushfire has burnt approximately 55,000 hectares as of this evening.

Locally, the overnight focus is on backburning operations ahead of tomorrow’s anticipated cooler conditions. Commissioner Whelan said the intention was to protect Tharwa and also work towards long-range suppression over the next week. Further suppression lines will be laid between Tharwa and Gordon on Sunday.

“It’s been a good firefighting day”, Commissioner Whelan said.

View from Bredbo, Saturday afternoon 1 February. Photo: Les and Dale Hoh.

UPDATE – February 1, 5 pm: ACT Emergency Services commissioner Georgeina Whelan has told the latest press conference at Fairbairn HQ this afternoon that she would rather apologise for being too cautious than risk complacency regarding the Orroral Valley fire risk.

“I don’t want to put people’s lives at risk, so I am not being a panic merchant by any stretch of the imagination, but I will lean forward if necessary because I want to protect the lives of every resident of the ACT”, she told this afternoon’s press conference at ESA headquarters.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has asked Canberrans to conserve available energy in order to avoid overstressing grid resources. Noting the high temperatures and the pressure this puts on air conditioning, he suggested that people should turn off non-essential equipment like pool pumps, dishwashers and washing machines.

The fire was upgraded just after 3 pm to emergency level although as of the last few minutes, it has returned to Watch and Act status as conditions ease slightly.

It is currently around two kilometres from Tharwa and seven kilometres from Banks and has burned almost 36,000 hectares. A major concern for ACT authorities has been whether it will spot forward into Canberra’s southernmost suburbs, although activity thus far has been most intense on the fire’s southeasterly flanks.

The associated Clear Range fire at Michelago, which spotted from the Orroral blaze, has been posing a serious threat to the area all afternoon and has closed the Monaro Highway. The list of areas where ember attack is a concern has been expanded to include Tinderry, Anembo, Jerangle and Chakola.

Commissioner Whelan said that the Orroral Valley fire is currently backing down the Tharwa side of Mount Tennant, while on the northern side intensity is growing and the fire is moving towards the Namadgi Visitors Centre.

“Numerous firefighting resources are also established around Tharwa and south Tuggeranong suburbs. The fire has created its own weather system this afternoon, and this is along the southern edge of the fire,” she said.

Containment strategies undertaken before temperatures escalated this week include fire trails, extensive retardant around park assets and clearing.

“The core of this fire activity is to the south-east of the ACT border. That does not mean it will not impact on the lower edge of the ACT”, Commissioner Whelan warned. Around mid-afternoon, the fire broke containment lines and is heading west towards the Mt Franklin Road. Crews have been withdrawn from the immediate area for their own safety.

A major difficulty is the weather conditions: temperatures have peaked at 41 degrees but the Bureau of Meteorology says there’s likely to be little change until around 8 pm. That, along with highly unpredictable wind effects close to the ground, means that fire activity is likely to continue increasing until around 9 pm.

Spot fires in Clear Range area have expanded and are expected to merge with the main fire. There is the potential for this fire to reach and join the Goodgood fire to the east

“The weather will drop slightly to 36 degrees later in the evening, but we aren’t expecting the weather to cool down any more than 26 degrees overnight. We have a long, variable night ahead of us”, Commissioner Whelan said

The Chief Minister also urged sightseers to stay well away from areas at risk. “I can’t stress this enough, you are not needed, you are getting in the way, stay out of the area”, he said.

Doorknocking is also beginning to take place in Canberra’s western suburbs, in case the fire breaches containment lines on its northern flank. These are not evacuations, but are intended to help people clarify their intentions and plan ahead.

NSW Ambulance crews

NSW Ambulance crews are helping fire crews battle blazes. Photo: NSW Ambulance Special Operation crews.

UPDATE – February 1, 12 pm: An emergency warning is now in place for the bush fire burning near Michelago and Bredbo where conditions are deteriorating quickly. Michelago and Colinton are now under ember attack.

If you’re in Michelago and you are unprepared, the RFS says you should leave now towards Canberra. If you’re in Colinton and unprepared, you should leave now towards Cooma.

A number of fires are burning in this area after spotting from the Orroral Valley fire in the ACT and the Monaro Highway has been closed in the area.

Spot fires are spreading quickly in a southeasterly direction towards Bredbo and there is now an immediate threat to properties and lives in the areas around Colinton, Michelago and Bredbo.

Firefighters and aircraft are working to slow the spread of these fires where possible but dangerous fire conditions are forecast today, and the fire danger forecast level is Severe.

The NSW RFS, which has charge of this blaze, says that under these conditions, fires will spread quickly and embers may be blown ahead of the main firefront, starting new fires.

Fire activity has also increased in the area to the west of The Angle and the RFS is working in close collaboration with the ACT ESA on management and information regarding the blazes.

In surrounding areas including Anembo, Jernagle, Chakola, residents should monitor conditions and be ready to take action.

Follow your bush fire survival plan. If you don’t have a plan, know what you will do if the fire threatens. If your life is at risk, call Triple Zero (000) immediately.

Continue to stay up to date by checking http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au, listening to your local radio station or by calling the NSW RFS Bush Fire Information Line on 1800 679 737.

For information on road closures, check http://livetraffic.com. Roads may be closed without warning.

Original Article published by Genevieve Jacobs on The RiotACT.

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