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.
EMERGENCY WARNING Croobyar Rd (Shoalhaven LGA) - Fire continuing to burn in the vicinity of Woodstock Rd W of Burrill Lake, with spotting occurring ahead of the fire front. Residents in Woodstock are advised to seek shelter as the fire approaches #nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/AMMD1ji5kS— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) August 14, 2018
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.
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.
"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.
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."
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.
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.
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
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 fire at Milton fire ripped through a paintball park.
"You could hear all the gas cylinders in there exploding," she said
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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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.
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.