5 October 2023

UPDATED: Government assistance available as Coolagolite fire brought under control

| Claire Fenwicke
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fire containment activity

Firefighting crews are putting out hot spots and strengthening containment lines on the Coolagolite bushfire. Photo: Woronora Bushfire Brigade.

UPDATE October 5, 7:30 am – After raging through more than 6,700 hectares, the Coolagolite bushfire has been brought under control.

A message from the NSW RFS Far South Coast team said the much-anticipated rain had given firefighters a helping hand.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, but we now feel confident that we have a solid containment strategy in place and we are starting to get the upper hand,” the message stated.

“Please still be aware that conditions can change at short notice and that the fire-ground is still an extremely hazardous environment.”

Several road closures are still in place due to the increased risk of falling trees after the fire, and the Narooma and Bega evacuation centres have been stood down.

The Bega Valley Shire Council has begun deploying arborists and engineers alongside RFS crews to get the roads back open.

firefighters at Murrah

Firefighters are helping with building impact assessments across the Bega Valley area following the Coolagolite bushfire. Photo: The Oaks RFS.

The fire continues to burn near homes in the Cuttagee, Barragga Bay, Murrah, Bunga and Goalen Head areas, with firefighters still actively patrolling the fire edge to extinguish hot spots. Black out activities are also occurring in the Wapengo and Goalen Head areas.

Minimal fire activity is still expected along the northeastern fire edge in the Bermaguee Nature Reserve and Biamanga National Park.

Residents have been advised to still stay alert and watching for signs of fire, such as burning embers and smoke.

“Do not travel. If you are in the impacted area, stay put. If you are not in the impacted area, it is still not safe to return,” a NSW RFS statement advised.

“There is considerable effort going in to making the area safe as soon as we possibly can.”

The Cobargo Community Access Centre is open today, offering a place for people to gather and talk about what they have experienced.

A NSW Health disaster response and recovery clinician will also be at the centre from lunchtime onwards.

fire containment activity

Firefighting crews are putting out hot spots and strengthening containment lines on the Coolagolite bushfire. Photo: Woronora Bushfire Brigade.

The NSW Government has announced disaster assistance will be made available in the Bega Valley LGA as a result of the bushfire, through the jointly-funded Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA).

Federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt acknowledged the Coolagolite bushfire would have brought back difficult memories of Black Summer.

“This early assistance will begin the recovery process for those directly affected, as we continue to collect information to understand the full impacts of the fires. We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Minns Government, ready to support communities,” he said.

NSW Emergency Services Minister Jihad Dib said the assistance would support communities, landowners, farmers, and primary producers to help in the clean-up and recovery from the bushfires.

“It is important that we open up this funding and support so impacted councils and some residents get their lives back on track,” he said.

Assistance available under the DRFA may include:

  • Help for eligible people whose homes or belongings have been damaged (eligibility criteria apply)
  • Support for affected local councils to help with the costs of cleaning up and restoring damaged essential public assets
  • Concessional interest rate loans for small businesses, primary producers, and non-profit organisations
  • Freight subsidies for primary producers

For information on personal hardship and distress assistance, contact Service NSW on 13 77 88.

To apply for a concessional loan, contact the NSW Rural Assistance Authority on 1800 678 593.

Fire front at Murrah Hall

Firefighters managed to protect Murrah Hall from the Coolagolite fire. Photo: Supplied.

UPDATE October 4, 3pm – A recovery hub will be established in Bermagui in the coming week to assist those who have been impacted by the Coolagolite fire.

Local Emergency Operations Controller, Sergeant Brad Ross, said community welfare was front of mind especially after what people had experienced during the 2019/20 bushfire season.

“We know too well the impacts that incidents like this have on our community,” he said.

“It’s important we reach out to each other and that … we get professional help when we need it.”

The recovery hub will be set up at the Bermagui Lifesaving Club with the assistance of the NSW Reconstruction Authority.

State Recovery Emergency Controller Dominic Lane said planning was already underway for recovery efforts.

“For those people who have had to spend the night in emergency accommodation or go to an evacuation centre, we’re here to provide you with help,” he said.

He encouraged anyone who needed urgent assistance to contact Service NSW on 13 77 88.

It’s expected representatives from insurance companies, mental health services and government agencies will be on hand at the recovery hub once it has been established.

aerial view of Coolagolite fire

An aerial view of the Coolagolite fire as of Thursday, October 4. Photo: NSW RFS.

12:45 pm – Firefighters continue to work on slowing the spread of the Coolagolite Road fire near Bermagui as reports begin to come in of properties lost – and saved.

The fire is still listed as out of control but has been downgraded to ‘Advice‘ status.

NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) spokesperson Victoria Quested said teams had been unable to assess the number and type of properties destroyed and damaged by the fire, as they couldn’t get in until the situation was deemed safe.

“Luckily we’ve had no reports of missing people or serious injuries though,” she said.

Aircraft have been deployed to get a rapid assessment on the buildings impacted by the flames.

Meanwhile about 130 firefighters and 40 vehicles are in the area working on containing the fire.

One local building that was able to be saved was the Murrah Hall, which had flames come dangerously close throughout the night.

NSW RFS spokesperson Marty Webster said the crews had done an amazing job.

“That’s a significant community asset, you couldn’t create the hall’s history or character,” he said.

The cause of the fire also cannot be investigated fully until the situation is deemed safe.

People in the area have been warned the risk of falling trees has “significantly” increased due to the fire and the weather conditions.

“We did have one incident this morning where a tree fell on a car on the road, with the occupant taken to hospital,” Ms Quested said.

Those in impacted areas have been asked to stay put, with it still not safe for people who evacuated to return either.

The fire risk will increase as the day heats up, with everyone asked to keep an eye on the conditions.

Mr Webster said while the fire’s status had been downgraded to Advice, that didn’t mean the fireground was safe.

“We’re hoping worthwhile rain will start falling around 2 o’clock,” he said.

“Crews are working to reinforce the lines we already have and making sure nothing reignites near properties, before we work on more aggressively putting the fire out.

“We’re not counting on the rain, but definitely part of our thinking is that Mother Nature might help us out this time.”

READ ALSO UPDATED: Conditions ease on Coolagolite fire front with severe weather warning issued

Murrah local Howard Stanley evacuated with his partner, her daughter and granddaughter at the first sign of smoke on Wednesday (3 October) morning.

“We had a bit of practice with the last lot of fires,” he said.

Some members of the surrounding community gathered at Cuttagee Beach in Bermagui and watched the smoke rise over the headland.

Howard and his family had been planning on staying with friends, but as luck would have it they ran into a person whose partner had recognised them as patrons of the local op shop.

“She told us she had a house where her son was staying, but it was empty at the moment, so she told us we could stay there,” he said.

“We were very, very, very lucky.”

He returned today (4 October) to find their home still standing.

“It had literally burned up to the edge of the house,” Howard said.

“Everyone’s feeling pretty fragile, we’re exhausted and stressed … this event is not over yet.”

People are nervously keeping their eyes on the predicted wind directions, as the angle will influence just where the fire could spread to next.

“It could be pushed back onto the burned area, or it could go in another direction and create a whole new fire front,” Howard said.

“We’ll just have to wait and see.”

READ ALSO Suspicious fire destroys heritage building at Bowning Railway Station

Closed roads in the region include:

  • Tathra-Bermagui Road between Hankinsons Road and Lamont Street, Bermagui
  • Parbery Avenue at Nutleys Creek Road, Bermagui
  • Box Flat Road at Cobargo Bermagui Road, Coolagolite
  • Doras Top Road at Cobargo Bermagui Road, Coolagolite
  • Westrops Road, Coolagolite
  • Mill Road at Cobargo Bermagui Road, Coolagolite
  • Ridge Road, Coolagolite
  • Green Tyrrells Road, Coolagolite
  • Coolagolite Road, Coolagolite
  • Tyrells Road, Coolagolite
  • Barrabaroo Road, Coolagolite.

There’s also been minor damage to decking at the head of Cuttagee Road, Cuttagee, with the load limit reduced to 22.5 tonne.

Keep up to date on what’s happening in your area via the NSW RFS website and the Fires Near Me page.

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