Smoke rises from the Yarrabin bushfire, burning out of
control near Cooma, about 100km south of Canberra,
yesterday. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne
Exhausted firefighters in three states were late
yesterday holding the line against disaster as hot dry winds
blasted flames across tens of thousands of hectares of eastern
Battling a day that saw the worst fire danger in history
across much of New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, crews
kept catastrophe from major towns and cities, despite
outbreaks that last evening were still threatening homes.
But the danger is far from past, with high temperatures
predicted to roast coastal NSW and Sydney until an expected
southerly change early this morning, and a return to
scorching temperatures again by the weekend.
As darkness fell, the potential for explosive firestorms
remained. Many areas will remain under threat for days,
possibly weeks, with little or no rain in sight, extremely
low humidity and massive stores of tinder in grasslands and
Late yesterday towns and homes were under threat from renewed
outbreaks on Tasmania's Tasman Peninsula, where more than 100
properties were devastated last weekend, and near Wagga
Wagga, Cooma and Tarcutta in NSW.
More than 130 fires were burning in NSW - 40 uncontained -
and about 40 continued to ravage Tasmania.
NSW Rural Fire Services spokesman Fred Nicholls said members
were nearing exhaustion.
"We are starting to run short on extras, we have had four
days of this now," he said. "When you do this day after day,
it wears the guys out."
Yesterday's temperatures, peaking from a two-week heatwave
pumped in by superheated air in the interior, forced
authorities to declare catastrophic risk along NSW's South
Coast, with 90 per cent of the state under severe risk. Much
of northern Victoria was also at severe risk.
The Bureau of Meteorology increased the colour range of its
scale, increasing the maximum to 54°C and adding a new purple
code above the previous black maximum.
By early afternoon the mercury had soared to 40°C in Sydney
and areas of the South Coast, with even higher peaks inland.
In Alice Springs and the remote South Australian town of
Oodnadatta temperatures have remained well above 40°C for the
past week. Oodnadatta was expected to reach 47°C yesterday.
In NSW winds gusting to 80km/h drove dangerous fronts through
bush and grasslands towards communities. Sydney late
yesterday had escaped the worst.
A fire at the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor in southern
Sydney was contained by early afternoon. But in the
Shoalhaven region south of Sydney a fire broke containment
lines and was heading towards the holiday area of Sussex
Inlet, and flames were threatening properties near Bega, on
the Far South Coast. At least 20 homes were under threat at
Brogo, in the Bega Valley.
Another dangerous front threatened properties close to Cooma,
at the foot of the alpine country southwest of Canberra,
another was burning near Wagga Wagga, and a major blaze was
nearing Tarcutta, on the Hume Highway about 450km southwest
Authorities also upgraded the alert level for NSW's Riverina
region from severe to catastrophic.
In Tasmania potential disaster again flared on the Tasman
Peninsula, where hundreds of people had earlier been
evacuated by boat to Hobart and where others who remained
were relying on food supplies trucked or boated in.
Residents of Eaglehawk Neck and nearby communities were
advised to flee as fires again flared up around the town,
Bream Creek and Kellevie.
Fire crews contained a major outbreak at Flowery Gully, near
Beaconsfield in the state's north.
Fires continued to burn in Victoria and several licked at the
fringes of Canberra. But late yesterday a southerly front had
cooled temperatures in Victoria and southern NSW, with light
showers falling at about 4pm in Canberra.