Day 44 (September 27) of the vast Yankees Gap Fire that has been burning at the back of Bemboka, Numbugga, and Brogo brings a sigh of relief for those living alongside it and fighting it.
Just before 4 pm the NSW Rural Fire Service declared the fire to be ‘under control’ and ‘contained’, words that didn’t seem possible on August 15 and September 15 when hideous conditions destroyed four homes.
“It’s a significant day for us,” says Marty Webster, RFS Public Liason Officer.
“There is a great feeling through the incident management team and the firefighters on the ground, it’s been a long haul.
“But contained doesn’t mean the fire is out by a long shot, we still have a lot of hard work to do,” he says.
Today’s declaration means there is confidence that the containment lines around the fire will hold, the next step down is for the fire to classed as being at ‘patrol’ status.
Identifying hot spots over the 20,000 ha fire ground is the focus for the days ahead.
“We have two options [for finding hot spots] one is a line scan which flies at about 20,000 feet and gives us a general overview of what’s going on, today it returned a very positive result showing very little activity with no running edge,” Mr Webster says.
“And that is backed up by a forward-looking infrared camera that is mounted under a helicopter, looking for hot spots around 120 degrees Celsius, anything at that level or above will be picked up and will give us the location to go to.”
One hundred and twenty hot spots were detected on today’s run with Remote Area Fire Teams (RAFT) winched in to quench the remaining flames by hand, or with the assistance of water bombing helicopters.
Around 15 mm of rain earlier this week has been key to getting to today’s milestone.
“It certainly didn’t put the fire out but it knocked the running edge right down and left us with these series of hot spots rather than an active fire front,” Mr Webster says.
“There are still 40 odd personnel on the fire ground today, 11 RAFT crews that were inserted this morning and they’ll be extracted at last light, and even just the logistics behind all that – getting crews in and back out, making sure they are all fed and housed – there is a lot of work that goes on in the background.”
The situation will continue to be assessed day by day and as the number of hot spots comes down the effort will slowly back off.
“The next landmark will be moving to a patrol status,” Mr Webster says.
“This will indicate that firefighting resources are used to keep an eye on our lines to ensure there are no breaches and that there isn’t any new fire activity.
“It also indicates that major re-ignition is unlikely.
“The final, and much anticipated, step is to declare a fire out. With the Yankees Gap Fire covering such a large area and being surrounded by drought-affected fuels, it is unlikely that we will declare this fire out until we have had significant rainfall on the fire ground.”
Dry and windy conditions are forecast for Thursday and Friday, however, crews will be monitoring for any increase in fire activity.
Mr Webster says he is reassured at the thirst for knowledge he is seeing at the moment around bushfire preparedness.
“There is a wealth of information on our website, or if people want to give us a call or approach their local brigade, or if there is a community group who would like us to come and have a chat with them, we are really happy to do that,” he says.
“The more we can help the community prepare themselves the lighter our burden is.”