Ashes to ashes: The fiery death of a national park

COOLER conditions yesterday allowed firefighters a bit of breathing space to do some mopping up after the three horrendous bushfires in the Warrumbungle National Park and north of Coonabarabran that razed 53 homes.

One of them, the Wambelong fire in the national park which has burnt out 54,000 hectares, had even created its own weather when it was raging last Sunday, Castlereagh Rural Fire Service public liaison officer Inspector Angela Daly said.

“It was a very hot, very intense, fast-moving fire,” Inspector Daly said.

“The smoke and so forth did start to create its own weather, because of the intensity of it and ferocity of that fire and how quickly it was moving.”

Essential Energy said by noon yesterday power had been restored to all sites affected by fires in the Coonabarabran area.

Essential Energy regional general manager Matt Patterson said the damage caused by last Sunday night’s storm and the fires had been extensive and was some of the worst that had occurred in the company’s history. 

“I would like to thank those impacted for their patience while our crews worked as quickly as safety would allow to restore power. Please be aware, however, that, sadly, power could not be restored to some sites, as the houses/buildings had been damaged or destroyed by fire,” Mr Patterson said.

He said customers in the Tambar Springs and Baradine areas should limit power usage to essential appliances only until at least late tomorrow.

The three fires started as a result of lightning strikes in the region, due to storms that occurred on January 12.

The Wambelong fire, which is now being controlled by firefighters, started 8km west of Coonabarabran.

“It’s got over 250km of fire perimeter,” Inspector Daly said.

The other two fires were the Redbank North fire, 29km north of Coonabarabran, and the Redbank Trail fire nearby.

The Redbank North fire has burnt out 3692ha and has been at patrol status since Saturday.

The Redbank Trail fire was declared out yesterday morning and had burnt out 98.6ha, Inspector Daly said.

There was a lot of work to do for the Wambelong fire, Inspector Daly said.

“There are still a lot of containment lines that need consolidating,” she said.

“There’s been preliminary trails put in. Crews are going back to blackout (creating a 30m to 50m buffer zone around the edge of the containment lines).

“Any larger timber will burn for a couple of days.

“Mop-up/patrol/blackout all goes hand-in-hand: it’s really dirty work but very important.”

Three hundred firefighters were still working yesterday, she said.

“From tomorrow, we’ll be starting to scale back – last night (Saturday) was the quietest night of all since the fire began,” she said.

The Newell Highway had reopened since the Redbank North fire had crossed the highway and forced its closure earlier in the week.

“There are still speed restrictions between Coonabarabran and Narrabri,” Inspector Daly said.

She said the cooler weather had “brought a bit of welcome relief to fire crews”.

Inspector Daly warned storms were still around and that people should keep an eye on storm activity and report any fires that started.

She said another storm on Friday at 7pm caused a lightning strike that had burnt out 50ha of scrub forest at Apple Tree Flat, near Mendooran. That fire was at patrol status as of Saturday. 

Tamworth Rural Fire Service spokesman Inspector Peter Roffe said a fire had started from a lightning strike on a property called Rockcliff, 7km from Bendemeer, on Saturday.

Six tankers attended the fire, which started at 2pm and was not under control until 10pm.

It had burnt out 35ha and was at patrol status, he said.

The State Emergency Service in Armidale attended 30 callouts in the past two days after a storm dumped up to 48mm of rain in the space of one-and-half hours.

Armidale SES local controller Elaine Towner said most of the calls related to localised flooding, fallen trees and leaking roofs. Six SES crews from Armidale were assisted by crews from Uralla and Guyra.

A lightning strike hit the roof of a house in Boorolong Rd, north-west of Armidale, and caused a fire.

After the fire was extinguished, the SES put a tarp on the roof.

Guyra recorded 38mm of rain during the storm.

Tamworth was a very pleasant 28 degrees Celsius yesterday and is forecast to be 31 degrees today, with showers and the chance of a storm.

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