BUSHFIRE LATEST: Up to 25 homes in the region destroyed

Sharni Moran with her 18-month-old daughter Charlotte.
Sharni Moran with her 18-month-old daughter Charlotte. Dan Peled AAP

SEVERE fire danger is in place this afternoon 'from border to border' across New South Wales.

Containment efforts are ramping up on the Liberation Trail fire, burning north-west of Coffs Harbour near Nana Glen and the Kian Rd bushfire in the Nambucca Valley. 

Of the 259 homes confirmed lost in NSW it's understood at this point almost 25 homes have been destroyed on the Coffs and Mid North coasts.

Nineteen homes have been confirmed destroyed in the Nambucca Valley, three in the Orara Valley along with six sheds and buildings around Nana Glen and Glenreagh. 

Of the four reported deaths across NSW, the closest has occurred near Kempsey. 

Essential Energy has confirmed electricity should be restored to all homes without power in the region by Saturday.

The latest weather update from the Orara Valley fireground at 1.30pm Friday is light winds as temperatures rise to an expected daytime maximum of 28 degrees. 

While light winds have been welcomed by fire crews trying to manage containment lines, the lack of breeze has covered much of the Coffs Coast in the thickest smoke seen in 2019. 

The Coffs Coast has regularly been blanketed by smoke plumes over the past two months, with the massive Bee's Nest Fire that burnt out more than 100,000ha of bush near Ebor from September now followed by the Liberation Trail fire that continues to rage across a 150,000ha firefront and carries a 1,000km perimetre. 

The NSW Transport Management Authority has this afternoon put out a smoke warning for motorists on the Pacific Highway travelling between Urunga and Coffs Harbour. 

Further south and the containment also continues on the Kian Rd fire in the Nambucca Valley.

Property on Ellems Quarry Rd, Nana Glen. Picture: Nathan Edwards.
Property on Ellems Quarry Rd, Nana Glen. Picture: Nathan Edwards.

Property losses adding up as crews continue to battle blaze

NAMBUCCA VALLEY

Nambucca Shire Council has acknowledged the tireless efforts of the Rural Fire Service, council staff, government agencies and the many volunteers who have come together in response to this bush fire natural disaster.

"The RFS have now confirmed that nineteen  homes have been lost and this figure is expected to increase," Nambucca Shire Council mayor, Rhonda Hoban said.

All local roads are currently open, but residents are urged to avoid unnecessary travel through areas that have been impacted by fires.

Council staff are inspecting the roads twice a day to reduce the risk of burnt trees falling and blocking roads.

The council is assisting with the supply of free water to rural properties.

"We will not charge for the cost of water over the next two weeks commencing on Saturday, November 16 for water carters and residents taking water from designated stand pipes," Cr Hoban said.

"Water carters can take water from the South Macksville water reservoir as usual whilst residents who wish to cart their own water can take it from Kelly Close beside the Council's Macksville Works Depot where a 40mm service has been established for filling containers, she said.

"We are appreciative of the incredible support provided by the community, but people will need to remain vigilant about their surroundings, and any residents needing welfare support should contact the Red Cross and Centrelink."

The South Arm property was destroyed.
The South Arm property was destroyed.

Mum describes moment 'ferocious' fire obliterated home

STATEWIDE

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says it could be months before firefighters are able to extinguish the million hectares of bushland and private property currently burning across New South Wales.

Tuesday is set to bring heightened fire danger after this afternoon's unfavourable conditions. 

On the Coffs Coast Tuesday's temperatures are set to peak around 28 degrees with flames fanned by northerly and easterly winds with gusts up to 20-30kmh.

Sunday presents an 80% chance of 1-5mm rainfall.

A thunderstorm is forecast for the coast, but there are concerns lightning from that could spark fresh blazes. 

"The real challenge is we have an enormous amount of country that is still alight," Commissioner Fitzsimmons said.

"They won't have this out for days, weeks, months. Unfortunately the forecast is nothing but above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall over the next few months and we've still got summer around the corner."

The current fires in NSW cover four times the land area that burned during the whole of 2018.

While the extent of the bushfires is less than those in New South Wales in 1974-75 , which destroyed 4.5m hectares (11m acres), forecasters and fire chiefs are concerned that so many fires are already under way before high summer.

The Liberation Trail fire devastated the landscape around the Orara Valley.
The Liberation Trail fire devastated the landscape around the Orara Valley. Cyndi Zoranovic

Miraculous escape from 20m wall of flames

ORARA VALLEY

It's been a week the Orara Valley will always remember.

As a raging inferno blazed its way along the Dorrigo Plateau and broke containment lines around Nana Glen, the  "worst case scenario" was  that flames could  blaze right through to the Pacific Highway.

But the hundreds of volunteer firefighters standing in the path of the firefront had different ideas.

The fact the fire was contained at Nana Glen was only due to an incredible containment effort given the catastrophic fire conditions.

Locals saving locals, has got to be one of  the most extraordinary things about  volunteer  fire services.

Crews have endured four days of tiring work, exposed to flames, heat and smoke - an exceptional act of service by so many.

Coutts Crossing firey Grubby White made international headlines this week summing up the lot of a rural "firey".

"Your gut drops, the noise of the fire, the sight of it, it sounds like a jumbo jet coming to the forest. At one point it felt like we were losing more than we could save. It nearly broke us."

His crew faced five days on the front before it hit Nana Glen. Donate at dgr@rfs.nsw.gov.au

NANA GLEN AND NAMBUCCA VALLEY FIRE EMERGENCIES RAISED IN STATE PARLIAMENT:

What the local members had to say: 

MEMBER FOR OXLEY MELINDA PAVEY: 

I am proud that we took to the 2011 election a policy to double hazard reduction, and we have more than doubled it across the State.

I put on record, right here and now, the thanks that my community wants to give to the National Parks and Wildlife Service staff, who are doing an incredible job.

Neville Beaumont, a farmer at Dorrigo, and not usually a friend of the National Parks and Wildlife Service staff, recognised their firefighting skills. This Government has put more people on the ground in the National Parks and Wildlife Service. The Government has taken them out of the offices and into our communities.

The Government has employed more Indigenous people and is doing the right thing.

I have heard a lot of support from the people around Willawarrin and Temagog for the National Parks and Wildlife Service personnel who have been there on a daily basis advising them of what is going on and offering them any help that they might need. On the other hand, I have also had some farmers explain why fires have gone straight into their properties and destroyed them. One volunteer told me yesterday that there were about 160 hectares of fire fuel load in parts of the forest. The volunteer got out of the truck and discovered that the fuel load was at hip height. So there are challenges for us all. We can only work through this if we look at the burning customs of the traditional custodians of the land. When he was at the top of the Oxley Mountains explorer John Oxley wrote about the density of the forest at the time before European settlement. It was much less dense than now.

These are not the only bushfires we will have. This State had huge fires in the 1950s and the 1930s. It is part of our history and it is part of our make-up. We must appreciate the work of our volunteers and thank them for it. We must also appreciate the work of the National Parks and Wildlife Service staff and our Fire and Rescue personnel. We must also listen to the farmers and to the Indigenous custodians, who want to see more burning and a better relationship with the land-the way that they managed the land before Europeans took over most of it. That will be an important part of the debate and the conversations we have going forward.

I am proud to be part of a government that has at least doubled the amount of hazard reduction. That is an important aspect of government policy. The Government has put record funding into our Rural Fire Service-a magnificent organisation. Funding has gone into bigger pieces of equipment, small cargo and tip trucks and support and training. We must acknowledge that fire will always be a part of the landscape of this nation. We must learn from what has happened in the past as we move into the future. We need to reduce fuel loads so that fires like the one that occurred last Friday-a fire that took out communities, homes and properties in my electorate-does not happen again in such a sudden, brutal and devastating way. The only way we can move forward in all of this is by acknowledging that there will always be better ways of doing things. The only way to discover better ways is to have respectful conversations and not begin those conversations with mistruths.

COFFS HARBOUR DODGED A BULLET.

MEMBER FOR COFFS HARBOUR GURMESH SINGH

Mr GURMESH SINGH (Coffs Harbour) (17:28:58): I start by expressing my sympathy to those who have lost property and loved ones. Yesterday we had quite a significant fire situation in Coffs Harbour.

I do not want to say that we were fortunate, but it could have been a lot worse. Only a small number of homes were lost and no lives. The motion acknowledges firefighters-RFS and Fire and Rescue NSW-but it does not mention the police, ambulance, local council staff, Family and Community Services staff, teams from the NSW Department of Education, SES volunteers and all the other community members who helped out in other ways, such as by delivering food and water to RFS volunteers. It also does not mention the local media, which in our area in particular was instrumental in getting information out to our communities.

In Coffs Harbour yesterday the state of emergency conditions meant that it was very hot, dry and windy. We had very low relative humidity. They were perfect conditions for our fire to get quite out of hand. As of yesterday morning, the fire threatened about 700 homes in the Nana Glen, Coramba and Glenreagh areas. The crews did a fantastic job keeping the fire relatively under control until late in the afternoon, when it jumped over the Orara Way and the Orara River and was about to jump into the Conglomerate State Forest. At that point the fire was spotting one kilometre ahead of the main fire front. The Conglomerate State Forest is very difficult terrain with limited to no vehicle access, so a fire can only be fought from the air. The forest is only 13 kilometres from a major built-up area; however, the RFS had air assets on hand to be able to put the fire out and save who knows how many homes. We have all known fires to travel 13 kilometres very quickly.

There was an absolute sense of dread in Coffs Harbour yesterday. It was a ghost town-I have never seen it like that before. The projected worst-case scenario showed about 90 per cent of the Coffs Harbour electorate at risk of fire or ember attack. However, under those terrible conditions the RFS and Fire and Rescue NSW members did a fantastic job. They were able to contain the fire with very few homes lost; we are still getting the final numbers. On top of that, police had to deal with arsonists operating in the area. I believe they made some arrests. All of this occurred in conditions that we can describe as catastrophic, even though that might not have been the official rating.

The worst is not over. Coffs Harbour dodged a bullet yesterday. We expect conditions to worsen again later this week-on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I think it is important that we start to learn some lessons from these situations. About 30 years ago my family lost the family farm to a bushfire. Because our farm contained mature fruit trees, we did not plant them again-it takes too long. There are countless stories like that up and down the coast and around the State. We need to learn those lessons. I think it is important to acknowledge the great work that the National Parks and Wildlife Service teams do with hazard reduction burns. However, can we do more? I think we can always do more hazard reduction burns. We can do more not only in national parks and State forests but also in another area that is often overlooked, which is private land. Private areas where councils have locked up land as E2 zones make things difficult. It is green tape that has been put in place and is making the job very difficult.

The past 48 hours in Coffs Harbour have obviously been very stressful. With the prospect of dangerous conditions ahead next week, people are anxious. This morning on the way to the airport I visited an evacuation centre. There were 140 people there, many of them elderly, who were worried. They were concerned about their properties and the pets that some of them had left behind. The volunteers and staff there worked longer than they were supposed to so they could keep those people fed and looked after in the evacuation centre. The last thing I think anyone would want to hear is some of the rubbish we have heard today about resourcing. I think it was yesterday that NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons addressed the funding issue and stated:

It is rubbish. It's misinformation. It is being misrepresented … Not only has our budget not been cut, but we are enjoying record budgets and we have got more money today than we have ever had before in the history of the organisation.

We have got record funding in particular programs, we're the only jurisdiction in the country with a dedicated Large Air Tanker, with a budget impact of something like $26.3 million to make that possible.

 

  • A total of 259 homes are now confirmed destroyed as a result of the bush fires since last Friday.
  • NSW RFS Building Impact Assessment teams have been working around the clock to assess the damage, and to help people get back to their communities.
  • They've inspected more than 3,100 buildings and confirmed another 87 homes have been damaged. 480 outbuildings have been destroyed.
  • More than 2,000 other buildings in the direct area of the fire have been saved.


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