By Lyndsay Jameson
THICK smoke haze that blanketed most of the Tamworth and Armidale regions yesterday and Saturday night is from the state’s largest bushfire so far this season that could burn for at least another week.
As of yesterday the Macleay River fire, as the Rural Fire Service (RFS) has called it, spanned more than 47,000 hectares (about 117,000 acres) with a perimeter of 317 kilometres.
It is 50km south-east of Armidale, or about 100km north-east of Tamworth, and is the result of the Freds Creek and Georges Junction fires joining.
Shifting wind direction has meant smoke from the massive fire was either negligible across Tamworth, such as on Sunday, or heavy, as the region experienced yesterday when winds blew in from the east.
Fifty-four firefighters, supported by six helicopters, four bulldozers and 26 fire trucks, were fighting the blaze yesterday, Armidale RFS incident management team publicity liaison officer Brett Loughlin said.
He said firefighters had about three-quarters of the fire under control yesterday, but a large section was still burning in its south-west Apsley division, towards the Apsley River. “Because the Apsley division’s so rugged through there, we’ve had to fall back where we can create some control lines. There’s every chance this fire will burn for another week,” Mr Loughlin said.
“We could reach over the 55,000-hectare mark quite easily. It’s quite a large fire.
“The worst thing would be to walk away from this fire then have it flare up again. If it takes another week of hard work to make sure that’s not going to happen, then so be it.”
The good news is that all of the properties in the Lower, Lagoon and Smiths creeks areas are no longer under threat, with the fires there controlled from backburning operations, and the RFS reverting to patrolling activities.
As well, the Kempsey Rd from Armidale was reopened late on Sunday night after being closed since last Saturday week (Oct 20) due to the bushfire.
Although the weather might be warmer today and tomorrow, Mr Loughlin said expected rain and cooler temperatures on Thursday and Friday (Nov 1-2) should help firefighters, with Armidale predicted to only reach a high of 18 degrees Celsius on Friday.
“That’ll help us continue to work on this fire,” he said.
He said the RFS’s Bellbrook base camp would likely be closed today, as the focus shifted from protecting the properties there to moving on to the Apsley division, which can be accessed from Walcha.
Mr Loughlin said the RFS and police were working together to determine the cause of the Macleay River fire, with investigations ongoing.
“If people have been negligent in their use of fire or things like that, then that’s something we want to try and get people to improve on,” he said.
All fire permits have been suspended in the Armidale/Dumaresq, Guyra and Kempsey local government areas.