Unstoppable: Victims pick up the pieces

MORE than 185 firefighters and 20 aircraft continued the battle yesterday to bring NSW’s worst bushfire in more than a decade under control.

The 40,000 hectare blaze continued to burn in the Bugaldie area, about 8km west of Coonabarabran, and the fire danger for today remains high.

There were milder weather conditions yesterday morning but the afternoon saw activity pick up in the south-east and south-west, turning the focus to protecting properties in the Carrington Lane area and subduing a flare-up in grasslands on the south-western side.

The anticipation of worsening conditions tomorrow also saw firefighters strengthening containment lines on the eastern side of the fire between Timor Rd and Baradine Rd to protect Coonabarabran.

More than 150 firefighters from the Sydney, Hunter and north coast regions have reportedly been brought in, but NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said it would be days before the fire was controlled.

At least 40 properties have been lost and a reported 185 people have registered at Coonabarabran’s evacuation centre.

Yesterday morning, brothers Steve nd Christian Munge found only scorched metal, a burnt screen that stood where the door was and melted plastic buckets when they visited their parents’ property at Baradine.

Christian told AAP their parents Phil, 74, and Chris, 66, escaped just in time.

“They only have the clothes they are in, and while the house is insured, none of the sheds or farming equipment is,” Steve said.

“(The insurance) is not going to replace 70 years of hard work.

“But they are alive and that’s the main thing.”

The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) said about 50 farms had been affected by the fire and significant stock losses were expected.

The DPI and the Livestock Health and Pest Authority are assessing animal welfare and emergency fodder is being provided for affected stock.

The damage to Warrumbungle National Park has not been fully assessed but it is believed about 16,000 hectares – roughly 70 per cent of the park – has been affected.

A spokeswoman from the Office of Environment and Heritage said it would be at least a few days before assessments could begin and the focus remained on managing the fire.

She said the park would remain shut for at least a few months and work to ensure the park was safe for visitors could take months.

Another assessment of the Siding Spring Observatory has revealed three buildings – the accommodation lodge, a cottage and a storage building – have been destroyed, while the visitors centre and two sheds have been badly damaged.

Four of the telescope buildings appear to have some smoke damage.

Three Australian National University (ANU) staff ­– two of whom are volunteer firefighters with the ACT RFS – are in Coonabarabran to relieve the staff on site and assist, while others have arrived to carry out electrical and plumbing work.

The university is looking into the possibility of an emergency appeal for affected staff and families.

Vice-chancellor Ian Young, Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics director  Mathew Colless, and support staff including a staff counsellor, will travel to Coonabarabran today .

Baradine Rd is closed between Bugaldie and 5km north of Coonabarabran, the Newell Highway is closed at the intersection of the Oxley Highway north of Coonabarabran, and Timor Rd is closed.

Meanwhile a fire burning uncontrolled between Narrabri and Coonabarabran has torn through more than 620 hectares of the Pilliga Nature Reserve.

Yesterday afternoon the fire was burning 50km northeast of Coonabarabran and had crossed the Newell Highway, but remained south of Timmallallee Rd.

No properties were under threat and milder weather conditions yesterday reduced the intensity of the fire.

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) said the lower temperatures and light winds were favourable for firefighters, allowing them to strengthen containment lines.

The Newell Highway between Coonabarabran and Narrabri remained closed while backburning was carried out.

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