2 February 2020

UPDATED: Bega Valley fires merge but cautious optimism in Eurobodalla after 69 days

| Genevieve Jacobs
Join the conversation

Moruya River, February 1. Photo: Alex Rea.

UPDATE – Sunday February 2, 10 am: Three major fires have merged in the Bega Valley and while conditions have eased overnight, the RFS says there is still significant fire in the landscape.

But in the Eurobodalla, Local Emergency Management Officer Warren Sharpe says that after 69 days of firefighting he is now cautiously optimistic based on the control work accomplished by firefighters yesterday and predictions for rain in the coming days.

Mr Sharpe said that earlier in the week, the RFS had placed incendiaries into the western area behind Moruya to conduct backburning and that those fires have burned back through the bush to provide a protective barrier for the town.

“The fire now cannot run through to Moruya and across to Bingi and other areas”, he said. “That is an excellent piece of work by RFS and their counterpart agencies”.

The predominantly northeasterly winds meant fires stayed within containment lines yesterday and did not jump to Turlinjah and Gulaga. Mr Sharpe thanked the people of Tilba Tilba and Central Tilba for their co-operation in agreeing to close the towns for business so that firefighters had the best chance of defending the historic villages.

“It’s been a massive battle. Today is day 69”, Mr Sharpe said. “We can all take a massive breather for the next week although if you are near an active fire front, remain alert”. He said fire controllers were “immensely grateful” to everyone who has helped fight the blazes.

Further south while the Creewah, Postmans Trail and Big Jack Mountain fires in the Bega Valley are still being referred to separately, in effect the fires have all merged and will soon have a new name.

Property impact assessment teams are in the field today after the RFS confirmed late yesterday that property has been lost in the Wyndham and Tantawangalo areas.

The concern today is that wind changes may push the fire into areas that were unaffected after yesterday’s prevailing winds ran from west to east. Today’s forecast is for winds from the south and temperatures will ease to the mid to high 20’s, according to the Burau of Meteorology.

As that risk develops, SES, VRA and NSW Police will be doorknocking households at Wolumla, Yellow Pinch, Bald Hills, and Millingandi today with advice and information. This is not an evacuation, but an opportunity to assess and clarify fire plans.

The Big Jack Mountain fire continues to burn north of Rocky Hall but the threat to areas including Wyndham, Burragate, New Buildings and Rocky Hall has eased. However, it’s still not safe for residents to return. The Creewah Road, Glen Allen fire has crossed Tantawangalo Mountain Road and joined the Big Jack Mountain fire in the area of Mount Darragh.

The Postmans Trail Fire continues to spread in an easterly direction, but the threat to Mount Darragh, Tantawangalo, Myrtle Mountain, Wyndham, Burragate, New Buildings and Rocky Hall has eased. It is still not safe to return to these areas, and while activity has also eased in the Border Fire around Mount Darragh, Wyndham, Rocky Hall, New Buildings, Burragate, Towamba and Pericoe residents should also not return.

Some previously unburnt areas within the perimeters of the Badja Forest fire are facing a threat to the west of Narooma, Dalmeny, Tilba, Coolagolite, Bermagui, Cuttagee, Barragga Bay and surrounding areas and there has also been active fire in the northern end of the Dignams Creek Valley.

The Monaro Highway is open between Canberra and Cooma after closures yesterday due to the Clear Range fire but smoke has reduced visibility and police advise that it may close again at short notice if fire activity changes.

While the Princes Highway remains closed at the Victorian border, a detour is now open. There are multiple local road closures in the Bega Valley west of the highway.

The Clear Range fire near Michelago and Bredbo has also eased overnight and is at Advice level as of 10 am. The immediate threat to properties and lives in the areas of Colinton, Michelago and Bredbo has dissipated and firefighters are working to slow the spread of these fires where possible.

A corella outlined against orange skies in Moruya, February 1. Photo: Alex Rea, Region Media.

UPDATE – Saturday February 1, 10 pm: While the Eurobodalla appears to have dodged a bullet in today’s severe fire conditions, there are reports that property has been lost in the Bega Valley after a high-risk day across the entirety of the South East.

There’s little information available at this stage, but the RFS reports that there have been some property loss in the Wyndham and Tantawangalo areas. Crews have been working on property protection in the village of Wyndham, which faced multiple threats in today’s extreme weather conditions.

It’s also likely that homes and outbuildings have been lost in the area between Bredbo and Michelago but these reports are also unconfirmed.

As of 10 pm, the Postmans Trail fire, the Border Fire and Big Jack Mountain fires are all at Watch and Act status after a day of fierce blazes.

In the Eurobodalla Chief Inspector Greg Flood, the local Emergency Operations Controller, said that north-easterly winds on the coast had won the battle over the westerlies prevailing in the west of the shire. The Bureau of Meteorology says a small low-pressure system formed just off the coast, protecting the Eurobodalla from the hot northwesterly winds.

Residents who relocated are now able to return home if they feel safe to do so although those who live near active fire fronts should stay where they are until conditions are reviewed tomorrow.

Chief Inspector Flood said that the ‘funnel’ to the west of Moruya – the gap between the Clyde Mountain and Badja fires – has burnt intensely today under a westerly influence. This fire to the west of Moruya and back up to the Tablelands looked extremely dangerous and it had been anticipated that multiple fires could join.

However, this didn’t occur and Chief Inspector Flood said that a positive outcome of the day is that there is now a deep containment ‘plug’ to the west of Moruya. Fire across the rest of the Shire has been active but is now relatively well-contained.

“The effect is to consolidate and strengthen many of the backburning operations, leaving less bushland to generate large fire runs toward towns and rural residential areas”, Chief Inspector Flood said.

There is still plenty of fire within the southern landscape and around Gulaga and the battle to contain this fire will continue. However, next week’s weather looks favourable and tomorrow’s forecast conditions while still hot, are significantly easier.

The Clear Range fire near Bredbo remains at emergency level tonight after sparking from the Orroral Valley fire. The fires spread quickly towards Bredbo, threatening properties at Colinton, Michelago, both of which came under ember attack today.

The Monaro Highway is closed and firefighters and aircraft have worked through the afternoon to slow the spread of these fires where possible.

Within the ACT, conditions have eased across the Orroral Valley fire ground, which is now at Watch and Act level after a day of intense activity in extremely steep and inaccessible country.

Orange skies from Tuross turnoff, 1 February 2020. Photo: Alex Rea.

UPDATE – Saturday February 1, 3 pm: Around 120 people are currently sheltering at Bega showgrounds as The Big Jack Mountain and Postman’s Trail fires reach emergency level and multiple other fires cause concern along the length of the coast.

Further inland, it is too late to leave Colinton, Michelago and Bredbo, where the Clear Range fire has closed the Monaro Highway as Michelago and Colinton come under ember attack.

Evacuation centres at the Bega Showground on Upper Street and Bermagui Surf Club off Lamont Street are both now open on a 24 hour basis and Bega Valley Shire Council says that plans are in place to open an evacuation centre in Merimbula if necessary.

Crews are poised to protect historic Tilba Tilba and Central Tilba, while at Moruya, Region Media staff say smoke is gathering in the upper air from the west, burnt leaves are falling and the sky is smoky and darkening. Ember attack is a risk in both Dalmeny and Bodalla.

A number of roads are now closed. The Princes Highway remains closed at the Victorian border, but a detour is now in place for those with a permit via Bombala, the Monaro highway and Cann River. Further north the Monaro Highway has been closed by the Clear Range fire, which is also at emergency level and is threatening Michelago, Bredbo and Colinton.

It’s possible that fire may also impact the Princes Highway between Bermagui and south of Moruya this afternoon, while multiple roads are closed around Big Jack Mountain,

The Big Jack Mountain fire is burning north of Rocky Hall. Fire activity is increasing and conditions are getting worse over the course of the afternoon as the fire spreads quickly. There is a threat to areas including Mount Durragh, Tantawangalo, Wyndham, Burragate, New Buildings and Rocky Hall.

The Border fire is burning over a large area north of the Victorian border, from the coast to Paddys Flat and is now also at emergency level as activity increases on the northern side around Burragate and Coolangupra.

The Postmans Trail fire is burning north of Cathcart where conditions are worsening and fire activity is increasing. This fire is in relatively close proximity to both the Big Jack Mountain Fire and the Creewah Road Glen Allen fire.

This fire is also a threat to areas including Mount Durragh, Tantawangalo, Wyndham, Burragate, New Buildings and Rocky Hall. If you are in the areas of Yurramie, Candelo, Mogilla and surrounds, you are at risk.

In both coastal shires, there are urgent pleas not to leave hoses and sprinklers running on your house. This is only useful if you are under ember attack from live coals. Water supplies have dropped alarmingly at many storage locations, putting at risk both firefighting supplies and safe drinking water.

If you are considering evacuating in either Bega or Eurobodalla Shires, please remember that you need to be as self-sufficient as possible. Bring bedding and baby food, and while smaller pets are welcome if you have no other options, they are better left in another safe location.

It’s possible to camp if you have equipment with you, and if you do choose to evacuate you should register with the Red Cross Register.Find.Reunite site. This ensures that people who are safe can find each other easily without stretching emergency services further during a crisis.

Fire activity looking at Moruya on 23 January. Photo: Alex Rea, Region Media

Update – Saturday February 1, 12 pm: The villages of Tilba Tilba and Central Tilba are closed for business this weekend as the Far South Coast tenses to see what high temperatures and winds bring.

Residents in both historic townships have been urged to relocate unless they intend to defend their property, and to keep the streets clear of vehicles. This will allow firefighters the best chance of defending the heritage villages should fires impact.

More than 200 extra personnel are in the Eurobodalla to bolster firefighting efforts and roads have been closed around both historic villages to enhance access for emergency services. Some residents around Deep Creek, Mogendoura, Bodalla, Tilba, Nerrigundah, Rosedale, Nelligen are also without electricity.

The RFS has also identified communities around the Deua Valley, Coila, Turlinjah and Dignams Creek as areas of concern today.

But the RFS says the weekend’s fire predictions pose a threat that should be taken very seriously. “Residents of these areas should now be relocating to safer areas if they aren’t prepared to the highest standard and mentally and physically prepared to actively defend their homes”, Chief Inspector Greg Flood, who is the Local Emergency Operations Controller, said this morning.

“Fire behaviour on days like today can be difficult to predict and residents from Broulee to Akolele should remain vigilant. Residents in areas yet to be burnt should remain alert for new fire activity”.

Doorknocking has been taking place in rural areas west of the highway from Moruya to Tilba and Akolele. This is not an evacuation exercise, rather an opportunity for residents to increase their awareness, consider their plans in light of current conditions and make well-informed decisions.

Residents of Moruya, Tuross Head, Kianga or Narooma who live in town – not on the bush fringes – who have prepared their homes well should generally be safer to stay at home today but need to remain alert for embers.

The RFS is advising that residents keep a close eye out for embers and extinguish them with a hose or wet mop, as per RFS advice in your bushfire survival plan https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/resources/bush-fire-survival-plan

The risk from embers is substantial: Bodalla and Dalmeny should be particularly vigilant due to the Mummaga Lake fire. More broadly speaking while people in areas that have already been burned should be reasonably safe, anyone south of Broulee needs to take account of their location and limited road access.

The risk is that embers may start an additional fire, compromising road access in and out of these areas. The RFS says that relying on going to the beach is not a good option and should be considered a last resort. Evacuation centres in Moruya and Narooma are both open for 24 hours service and the Bermagui evacuation centre is also open at the Surf Club.

The forecast for today is temperatures 37-40 degrees, northwesterly winds 20-30km/h and humidity will be 20-30% along the coast and 10-20% inland and will likely drop as the day warms.

A southerly is expected to move up the coast tonight – expected in Merimbula around 8 pm, and in Moruya around 10-11 pm. The southerly will bring gusty conditions up to 40-50km/h for a few hours and will bring an increase in humidity. Winds will remain 30-40km/h for a few hours.

There’s potential for the Princes Highway to close today due to fire impacts in the area between Bermagui and south of Moruya.

Please help conserve water for essential drinking water and firefighting. The shire’s water storage facility at Deep Creek Dam is now below fifty per cent capacity.

You can stay updated with Fires Near Me, Live Traffic and local radio. If your life is in danger call Triple Zero (000).

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
Terry Commins3:22 pm 01 Feb 20

Top reporting. Easy to read, easy to understand. Well done.

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.