The view over Bega Valley to the fire at Bemboka from Brown Mountain on Wednesday.
The view over Bega Valley to the fire at Bemboka from Brown Mountain on Wednesday.

US water bombers arrive in two weeks for summer

HUNDREDS of South Coast residents were forced to flee their homes as the first bushfire crisis of a predicted horror season struck with winter not yet over.

But two of the Rural Fire Services' greatest weapons - two huge water bombers - weren't in action on Wednesday because they had not yet arrived from the US ahead of the Australian summer.

Two out-of-¬control blazes were propelled by winds reaching speeds of up to 110km/h.

The first tore through 1358ha of bone-dry bushland, threatening dozens of homes and farms at Mt Kingiman, west of Ulladulla, while the second 2130ha blaze ripped through remote country northwest of Bega.

Firefighters were hoping for some relief overnight, with conditions expected to ease, allowing them to try and get the upper hand across nearly 60 fire grounds.

Because the fires have hit so early in the year firefighters were without the two large water bombers - one nicknamed Thor - that they lease each year from the US.

They are capable of dropping 15,000 litres in seconds, but will not arrive until next month

There were 106 fires burning across the state last night, with more than 760 firefighters battling 59 fires, 39 of which were uncontained.

There were a further 47 fires being monitored by the Rural Fire Service.

Firefighting efforts will shift north today, with the hot and windy conditions set to move into northern NSW, where winds are expected to reach 80km/h.

There are 18 uncontained fires burning north of Port Macquarie.

An injured firefighter takes stock after being hurt near Bomaderry. Picture: TNV
An injured firefighter takes stock after being hurt near Bomaderry. Picture: TNV

On the outskirts of Sydney a 95ha bushfire in Bilpin, which had been contained, is expected to be fuelled by renewed winds.

At Bomaderry, north of Nowra, yesterday an 83ha fire claimed Christian Pederson's shed housing motorcycles.

 

Damping down scorched earth and bush at Cattai Ridge Rd, Maraylya. Picture: TNV
Damping down scorched earth and bush at Cattai Ridge Rd, Maraylya. Picture: TNV

"We were trying to stop the little spot fires on the roof, wetting the roof down, and the paddock behind me caught fire and blew it straight over this way," he told reporters. "What can you do? At least the house is still standing."

At the height of the emergency yesterday more than 1000 firefighters, 170 incident management personnel, 278 vehicles and 26 aircraft battled the blazes.

Firefighters at Milton. Picture: TNV
Firefighters at Milton. Picture: TNV

The situation prompted an extremely rare complete winter fire ban across Sydney, the Hunter and Illawarra, the earliest it has been declared in a decade.

Emergency Services Minister Troy Grant warned of a dangerous spring and summer ahead: "This is a stark and massive wake-up call."

 

A fire rages west from Milton. Source: Twitter @AinslieClaire
A fire rages west from Milton. Source: Twitter @AinslieClaire

At Mt Kingiman, farmer Melissa Shea, 42, and her 13-year-old neighbour Aria Nee were among those evacuated as crews attempted to save their properties.

 

Emergency Services attended Mount Brandon Rd, Jerrara. Picture: TNV
Emergency Services attended Mount Brandon Rd, Jerrara. Picture: TNV

Mrs Shea watched from a distance as smoke billowed into her property, where 10 horses had to be left behind. "My husband woke me up at 3.30am and the sky looked like it was on fire with this ¬orange glow. Now we are just waiting," she said.

 

The Milton bushfires on Narang Rd, Bomaderry. Picture: TNV
The Milton bushfires on Narang Rd, Bomaderry. Picture: TNV

Other property owners refused to leave their land, despite spot fires metres from their driveways.

Instead, they put on smoke masks and prepared their properties with buckets of -water and hoses, and cleared loose branches and leaves from their frontyards

The RFS said the fire was burning “close to properties” but crews were on scene to try protect them. Picture: Instagram / kcmelzer
The RFS said the fire was burning “close to properties” but crews were on scene to try protect them. Picture: Instagram / kcmelzer

Bemboka resident Jennifer Keys said the huge fire west of Bega had lit up the horizon.

"We can see the mountains lit up like a Christmas tree," she said.

"The people on the other side of the mountain - I'm not sure how they're faring but I can imagine it's not good."

 

A building destroyed by fire at Bomaderry.
A building destroyed by fire at Bomaderry.

A fire at Milton fire ripped through a paintball park.

"You could hear all the gas cylinders in there exploding," she said

A firefighter prepares to fight the blaze at Bomaderry.
A firefighter prepares to fight the blaze at Bomaderry.

South Coast MP Shelley Hancock left her post as NSW Parliamentary Speaker and raced back to her devastated electorate. She said the high winds made conditions atrocious.

"It's not January when you are expecting these things, it's August. It's quite frightening," resident Susan Curran said.

 

The fire at Bemboka appeared the most dangerous late on Wednesday.
The fire at Bemboka appeared the most dangerous late on Wednesday.

Mr Grant said 10 local government areas in NSW had already been declared in bushfire danger period, which had been brought forward in the Northern Rivers and North West.

"We are bracing ourselves for what will likely be one of our busiest bushfire seasons because of the driest winter that we've seen in a long time," he said.

 

Treatment arrives for a man with smoke inhalation at Bomaderry. Picture: TNV
Treatment arrives for a man with smoke inhalation at Bomaderry. Picture: TNV

"The rest of state will begin bushfire danger period as early as next month - a month earlier than usual - on 1 October."

Bushfire experts agreed with the minister's warning that the state is facing one of the worst possible seasons for fires, with fuel loads dangerously high.

 

Firefighters protect a property at the Bilpin blaze. SOURCE: TNV
Firefighters protect a property at the Bilpin blaze. SOURCE: TNV

NSW RFS Inspector Ben Shepard said the fire activity was "unseasonable".

"The kind of activity we have seen today is typical of a bad summer's day rather than any kind of winter's day," he said.

A clean-up crew survey the remains of a building at Bomaderry.
A clean-up crew survey the remains of a building at Bomaderry.

"We have ourselves a lot of fire to deal with over the coming days and no significant rain plus the added problem of return of winds on the weekend," he said.

Rural Fire Service Volunteer Association president ­Michael Holton said the drought had increased chances of a bad season along with a high fuel load.

"I believe there is a huge potential for a terrible season," he said.

 

Residents hurry to leave danger threatening homes near Bomaderry. Picture: TNV
Residents hurry to leave danger threatening homes near Bomaderry. Picture: TNV

Mr Holton said the abundance of wind and fuel would be the critical factors.

"Poor land management has put us in hot water," he said.

"I believe there is a huge potential for a terrible season.

The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning for damaging winds for the state's southeast, including for a possible blizzard above 1900m.

 

Rural Fire Service operators battle flames at Bilpin. Picture: TNV
Rural Fire Service operators battle flames at Bilpin. Picture: TNV
 

Mullum's big little music festival

Mullum's big little music festival

Its a music fan's dream this weekend in Mullumbimby.

Holiday housing hassle

Holiday housing hassle

Council seeks to control Airbnb in Byron

Doing this while driving will cost you 10 demerit points

Doing this while driving will cost you 10 demerit points

Police will be clamping down on this behaviour that costs lives

Local Partners