AN UNCONTAINED fire in the ranges behind Dungowan is expected to rage right through the weekend as firefighters struggle to contain the southern front, due to access problems and erratic winds.
More than 30 firefighters, 14 tankers and three fixed-wing aircraft filling up out of Chaffey Dam and at Tamworth Airport have been continuously fighting the fire, which had spread across the Leconfield and Beltana properties on Echo Hills Rd. Amazingly, no property or stock had been lost by yesterday afternoon, yet more than 900 hectares had been burnt out.
Tamworth district deputy fire control officer Steve Prior said fire teams have essentially contained three sides of the blaze, although the southern side had very little access and the erratic winds were causing major problems in the battle.
“The aircraft and dozers will work right through until dark, with the crews once again going right through the night. The flames are taking big, fast runs up hills with the winds and are spreading,” Mr Prior said.
The blaze was started by a wayward spark from an angle grinder at the Beltana property and took off fast, burning more than 500ha in about three hours, according to nearby property owner Brian Skerritt, who had been up all night battling the blaze.
Community safety officer Peter Roffe said the fire was at its worst on Thursday night, as the winds were very strong and changing direction constantly, making it impossible to contain.
“At about 5.30am the winds died down and the blaze settled down enough to get a slight hold on it, but some of these areas are inaccessible scrub that makes the fire very hard to predict or stop,” Mr Roffe said.
Deputy area group captain Kendall Thompson said while the fronts were still 15km from Dungowan, the south-east and south-west areas of the fires were the hotspots, where harsh landscape was making it difficult to effectively fight, as access to the south was minimal, if any.
“Conditions on Friday morning and afternoon were good, although it is so dry out here. With the country being as extreme as it is, it could easily take off again with the right conditions,” Mr Thompson said.
Fire crews were called in from several regions, from as far out as Wingen, to help battle the blaze, with the other crews from Dungowan, Willow Tree, Braefield, Limbri, Woolomin and Tamworth. Yesterday afternoon saw the crews battling hard to save the old backpackers’ pub, which is “quite an extravagant set-up”, buried in the scrub behind the Leconfield property. The flames had come within one metre of the area landmark, which is kept in good condition despite the fact it is no longer used.
“The forecast for Saturday looks daunting, with the winds expected to change from east to west – the full 180 degrees – which is very unusual and hard to manage, as well as more strong afternoon winds,” Mr Prior said.
A grass fire also broke out on Heiligmans Ln in Warral, south-west of Tamworth, but was quickly brought under control by the Rural Fire Service, which diverted one of the planes from the Echo Hills fire to quell the flames before they took hold.