The state of alert that has been in place since 2 January has been lifted for the ACT’s urban and residential areas, but will remain for rural and remote areas of the ACT including Tharwa and Uriarra Village. The announcement came as the Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe thunderstorm warning for most of the ACT and southern NSW.
The ACT’s Emergency Services Agency (ESA) Commissioner, Georgeina Whelan, advised residents in rural and remote locations that they will need to remain alert and prepared for the threat of bushfire crossing the border.
“The geographic changes to the state of alert will allow those in the urban areas of the community to return to a sense of normality,” the Commissioner said during the ESA’s update this morning (20 January).
Commissioner Whelan said there had been “lots of lightning strikes in the last 24 hours” but the fires to the west and south of the ACT are now “being controlled”.
“We know lightning strikes can sometimes take about 48 hours to surface in terms of ignitions, hence why we want the community to remain vigilant,” Commissioner Whelan said.
Commissioner Whelan said firefighters have had great success on the Mary’s Hill fire in the last four days, with only a few minor hot spots remaining. The fire remains 4.6 km from the ACT border.
The Adaminaby Complex fire, to the south of the ACT, is 1.8 km from the border.
Following this afternoon’s storm, Commissioner Whelan says that firefighters have been pulled off the fireground for their own safety but will be back tomorrow to continue containment.
However, the rain did help firefighters, with 15mm falling on the Mary’s Hill fire, 15mm on the Adaminaby Complex fire and 25mm to 60mm on the Dunns Road fire. With thunder and lightning striking the area, the Firebird 100 helicopter will continue surveilling the region to make sure there have been no new ignitions.
Today, ACT Remote Area Firefighting Teams (RAFT) were transported and winched onto the Mary's Hill fire ground by Helitak 274 and 275 to undertake firefighting due to rugged terrain. Full update: https://t.co/16ao53Wppn pic.twitter.com/P26KmqSoXt
— ACT ESA (@ACT_ESA) January 18, 2020
“The reason we have been able to get control of the fires is because of the positive approach we’ve taken to firefighting this season. The strategy we’ve developed this season is what has allowed us to get on top of the fires,” the Commissioner said.
“Our emergency services personnel and volunteers are in for the long haul and we will continue to support NSW in their firefighting efforts. We are working very closely with our interstate colleagues, with the support of the ADF, to continue to combat these fires.”
Community meetings in Tharwa and Uriarra Village will be organised in the coming days to provide an update on the current situation.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said while the current risk of bushfire has been “significantly reduced”, the ACT’s State Emergency Service has been placed in readiness for increased storm activity this afternoon.
“There is a large storm heading our way, so the message again is clear to be prepared, and many of the things we do to prepare for a bushfire, we also need to do to prepare to respond to significant storms,” Mr Barr.
The BOM today issued a severe thunderstorm warning that is likely to produce damaging winds, large hailstones and heavy rainfall that may lead to flash flooding during the next several hours.
Locations that may be affected span from Newcastle to the Victorian border and west to Albury.
“A low-pressure system over inland New South Wales is drawing humid air across eastern parts of the state causing widespread thunderstorm activity. This system is expected to gradually move to the Tasman Sea later tonight,” the BOM said.
Meanwhile, the ACT Conservator of Flora and Fauna, Ian Walker, has made the decision to maintain a number of the current closures of ACT Parks and Conservation estates until 27 January.
“For safety reasons, due to excessive smoke and high fire dangers, I have made the decision to maintain the closure of our managed estate west of the Murrumbidgee River only. Kowen Forest and the Mulligans Flat Sanctuary will be open,” Mr Walker said.
“This change allows for some of our recreation sites to be reopened while managing the public’s safety in our more remote areas.
“Swimming areas at the Cotter and along the Murrumbidgee River such as Kambah Pool, Pine Island, Point Hut and Uriarra Crossing will remain open. The Cotter Campground will also be open,” Mr Walker said.