2 January 2020

UPDATED: South Coast visitors strongly urged to leave now as brief window opens

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Emergency services work together in Bega

Emergency services work together in Bega on the fire crisis. photo: Bega Valley Council Facebook.

UPDATE 10 AM THURSDAY, January 2: Visitors to the South Coast should take advantage of a break in the weather to leave the South Coast today as a matter of urgency. The RFS has initiated a Tourist Leave Zone stretching from Batemans Bay to the Victorian border.

Power is coming back on in many areas and petrol is also available although there are long queues.

The road north is now open from Batemans Bay through to Sydney.

The Princes Highway is now open from Moruya to Bermagui. At Bermagui turn off and travel via coast road to Tathra and on to Bega then to Cooma via Brown Mountain. These detours are signposted.

You should be aware that George Bass Drive – the coast road between Moruya and Batemans Bay – is closed between Rosedale and Malua Bay due to fire damage. All efforts are being made to have George Bass Drive fully open by 10am.

Please travel calmly, drive with your lights on, obey any traffic control.

UPDATE: 7.30 pm Wednesday January 1– Bega and Eurobodalla visitors have been told that RFS resources are stretched to the limit ahead of extreme conditions expected this weekend and that anyone who can leave for safety over Brown Mountain should do so now.

Eurobodalla Council has urged “visitors to leave Eurobodalla via Narooma as soon as possible. It is in their best interests and the best interests of our community”.

From Moruya take the Princes Highway south, following detour signs from the Bermagui turn-off via the coast road to Bega and on to Cooma.

Some fuel had been quarantined for emergency services but a window has now opened to refuel and leave as the Snowy Mountains Highway re-opens.

There is a lot of smoke on the Snowy Mountains Highway over Brown Mountain and people will need to drive to conditions and ensure they have a full tank of fuel as supplies cannot be guaranteed until Cooma.

Particular concern over the next few days is focussing on the villages south of Eden including Kiah, Boyd Town and Wonboyn after two significant fires joined together across the state border.

The Weir Rd Fire, burning in the Timbillica State Forest, is now being referred to as the Border Fire after joining a large fire burning to the south in Victoria that has moved north into NSW.

“There are no contained edges in that fire,” Mayor Kristy McBain told a community meeting this afternoon. “We will experience severe weather conditions from Friday onwards.

“If you can move on and head towards Bega or up to the Snowy and Canberra then we request you to do so.”

There are also caravan and camping spots available at Pambula and Tathra if people choose to move north.

There is little information available about the damage further south, frustrating many Victorians in the area.

Region Media’s Ian Campbell, who is currently working with Bega Valley Shire Council on their emergency response, told the crowd: “We just don’t know what the situation is in Mallacoota. The fire services there are also stretched and there is no opportunity to get in and assess the damage and share that information more publicly.”

RFS personnel reiterated that although it may seem “perfectly safe” for people to return to their homes, this was not the case as visibility in fire-affected areas can quickly fall close to zero. When using roads in fire-affected areas, RFS travel at fixed speeds, with flashing lights and in fully fire-equipped vehicles. Motorists should not attempt to push through closed roads.

“The RFS is very stretched across Bega Valley,” Mayor McBain said. “We have deployed into Eurobodalla and sent police across the border. We’ve had to make some big calls within the emergency centre to help our neighbours across shire and state borders.

“At this point in time, we need every resource for Bega Valley Shire. Our guys are very stretched and we need to assist them.”

The crowd was told that at this stage, the RFS believes Eden is defensible, but forecast conditions for Saturday include temperatures in the low 40s, relative humidity below 10 per cent and wind changes throughout the day.

The crowd was warned that wind gusts can be up to three times greater than the average speed and that fires can generate their own weather. That also means that an ember attack is a major risk.

Keeping yourself proactively informed was the best strategy at all times and car radios or battery-operated radios could be useful if the power goes out.

Forestry personnel have been fighting “cheek by jowl” with other emergency services in the Shire and Mayor McBain described the coordination between services as “seamless”.

While containment lines are only holding occasionally, backburning is only being used strategically in tightly restricted circumstances and there are no plans for major backburning operations to protect Eden under these conditions. Ultimately, the crowd heard, the only truly effective containment line is the ocean.

To stay up to date on bush fires in your area call the NSW RFS Bush Fire Information Line on 1800 679 737 or check the NSW RFS website. For road reports and updates visit Live Traffic NSW.

Use the Register.Find.Unite service to register your location, and find and reunite with family, friends and loved ones after an emergency. For a list of evacuation centres visit Disaster Assistance.

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