UPDATED: Conditions ease at nightfall as Orroral blaze is within two kilometres of Tharwa

Genevieve Jacobs 2 February 2020 31
Flames travel down Mt Tennent

As flames travel down Mt Tennent, a drop of retardant now forms a defensive perimeter to slow the fire. Photo: ACT ESA.

UPDATE – February 1, 11 pm: Conditions have eased across the firegrounds to Canberra’s immediate south after a hard-fought day across inaccessible terrain. However, the Orroral Valley blaze came within two kilometres of Tharwa and at one stage ignited mulch near the Namadgi Visitor’s Centre.

ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan told media during the evening update at ESA headquarters that “multiple containment strategies” had been used to protect Tharwa this afternoon.

These included new fire trails, extensive retardant lines, and cleared areas enabling ground-based firefighter attack. Firefighting resources had been extensively deployed around Tharwa to protect both the village and south Tuggeranong suburbs, Commissioner Whelan said.

Containment lines have also been prepared between Tharwa and Gordon, and Commissioner Whelan said that all historic structures within Namadgi, including the alpine huts, are still safe.

However NSW Rural Fire Service community liaison officer Beth Slender said that it’s likely property has been lost in the area between Bredbo and Michelago, which came under sustained ember attack from the Clear Range offshoot fire earlier today. That fire remains at emergency level.

The Orroral Valley bushfire has burnt approximately 55,000 hectares as of this evening.

Locally, the overnight focus is on backburning operations ahead of tomorrow’s anticipated cooler conditions. Commissioner Whelan said the intention was to protect Tharwa and also work towards long-range suppression over the next week. Further suppression lines will be laid between Tharwa and Gordon on Sunday.

“It’s been a good firefighting day”, Commissioner Whelan said.

View from Bredbo

View from Bredbo, Saturday afternoon 1 February. Photo: Les and Dale Hoh.

UPDATE – February 1, 5 pm: ACT Emergency Services commissioner Georgeina Whelan has told the latest press conference at Fairbairn HQ this afternoon that she would rather apologise for being too cautious than risk complacency regarding the Orroral Valley fire risk.

“I don’t want to put people’s lives at risk, so I am not being a panic merchant by any stretch of the imagination, but I will lean forward if necessary because I want to protect the lives of every resident of the ACT”, she told this afternoon’s press conference at ESA headquarters.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has asked Canberrans to conserve available energy in order to avoid overstressing grid resources. Noting the high temperatures and the pressure this puts on air conditioning, he suggested that people should turn off non-essential equipment like pool pumps, dishwashers and washing machines.

The fire was upgraded just after 3 pm to emergency level although as of the last few minutes, it has returned to Watch and Act status as conditions ease slightly.

It is currently around two kilometres from Tharwa and seven kilometres from Banks and has burned almost 36,000 hectares. A major concern for ACT authorities has been whether it will spot forward into Canberra’s southernmost suburbs, although activity thus far has been most intense on the fire’s southeasterly flanks.

The associated Clear Range fire at Michelago, which spotted from the Orroral blaze, has been posing a serious threat to the area all afternoon and has closed the Monaro Highway. The list of areas where ember attack is a concern has been expanded to include Tinderry, Anembo, Jerangle and Chakola.

Commissioner Whelan said that the Orroral Valley fire is currently backing down the Tharwa side of Mount Tennant, while on the northern side intensity is growing and the fire is moving towards the Namadgi Visitors Centre.

“Numerous firefighting resources are also established around Tharwa and south Tuggeranong suburbs. The fire has created its own weather system this afternoon, and this is along the southern edge of the fire,” she said.

Containment strategies undertaken before temperatures escalated this week include fire trails, extensive retardant around park assets and clearing.

“The core of this fire activity is to the south-east of the ACT border. That does not mean it will not impact on the lower edge of the ACT”, Commissioner Whelan warned. Around mid-afternoon, the fire broke containment lines and is heading west towards the Mt Franklin Road. Crews have been withdrawn from the immediate area for their own safety.

A major difficulty is the weather conditions: temperatures have peaked at 41 degrees but the Bureau of Meteorology says there’s likely to be little change until around 8 pm. That, along with highly unpredictable wind effects close to the ground, means that fire activity is likely to continue increasing until around 9 pm.

Spot fires in Clear Range area have expanded and are expected to merge with the main fire. There is the potential for this fire to reach and join the Goodgood fire to the east

“The weather will drop slightly to 36 degrees later in the evening, but we aren’t expecting the weather to cool down any more than 26 degrees overnight. We have a long, variable night ahead of us”, Commissioner Whelan said

The Chief Minister also urged sightseers to stay well away from areas at risk. “I can’t stress this enough, you are not needed, you are getting in the way, stay out of the area”, he said.

Doorknocking is also beginning to take place in Canberra’s western suburbs, in case the fire breaches containment lines on its northern flank. These are not evacuations, but are intended to help people clarify their intentions and plan ahead.

NSW ambulance crew

NSW ambulance crew are assisting with the Clear range fires. Photo: NSW ambulance.

UPDATE – February 1, 12 pm: An emergency warning is now in place for the bush fire burning near Michelago and Bredbo where conditions are deteriorating quickly. Michelago and Colinton are now under ember attack.

If you’re in Michelago and you are unprepared, the RFS says you should leave now towards Canberra. If you’re in Colinton and unprepared, you should leave now towards Cooma.

A number of fires are burning in this area after spotting from the Orroral Valley fire in the ACT and the Monaro Highway has been closed in the area.

Spot fires are spreading quickly in a southeasterly direction towards Bredbo and there is now an immediate threat to properties and lives in the areas around Colinton, Michelago and Bredbo.

Firefighters and aircraft are working to slow the spread of these fires where possible but dangerous fire conditions are forecast today, and the fire danger forecast level is Severe.

The NSW RFS, which has charge of this blaze, says that under these conditions, fires will spread quickly and embers may be blown ahead of the main firefront, starting new fires.

Fire activity has also increased in the area to the west of The Angle and the RFS is working in close collaboration with the ACT ESA on management and information regarding the blazes.

In surrounding areas including Anembo, Jernagle, Chakola, residents should monitor conditions and be ready to take action.

Follow your bush fire survival plan. If you don’t have a plan, know what you will do if the fire threatens. If your life is at risk, call Triple Zero (000) immediately.

Continue to stay up to date by checking http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au, listening to your local radio station or by calling the NSW RFS Bush Fire Information Line on 1800 679 737.

For information on road closures, check http://livetraffic.com. Roads may be closed without warning.

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31 Responses to UPDATED: Conditions ease at nightfall as Orroral blaze is within two kilometres of Tharwa
MERC600 MERC600 4:47 pm 03 Feb 20

What exactly is this red/pink fire retardant stuff ? I trust it’s safe but whats in it that makes it a retardant ?

Jim Jim Jim Jim 1:44 pm 02 Feb 20

Handled well? The warnings for the fires that encroached on Brindabella businesses park were appalling.

    Sarah Kristine Sarah Kristine 5:19 pm 02 Feb 20

    only if you had your head in the sand

    Sue Sutton Sue Sutton 5:21 pm 02 Feb 20

    Jim Hosie harsh Sarah. Jim I think that one was a bit out of the box.

    Jim Jim Jim Jim 6:00 pm 02 Feb 20

    Sarah Jenkins yep like all them staff who couldn’t leave? Must’ve had their heads in the sand?

    Jim Jim Jim Jim 6:00 pm 02 Feb 20

    Sue Sutton it’s fair comment

Capital Retro Capital Retro 12:18 pm 02 Feb 20

There was a report that the ACT Rural Fire Service attempted a back-burn below Corin Dam and it has since got out of control. It’s good to hear about the perceived success of the management but can we have some detail on the strategies in the field that haven’t been successful?

Stephen Matthews Stephen Matthews 9:30 am 02 Feb 20

Ms Whelan is very impressive

Kellie Whyman Kellie Whyman 12:36 am 02 Feb 20

I’m thrilled she’s in charge and I have faith in her charge!

🇦🇺✌🏼Thank you Commissioner GW! 👍🏼

Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 9:28 pm 01 Feb 20

I wonder which western suburbs were being door knocked.

Cathy Dearnley Cathy Dearnley 8:43 pm 01 Feb 20

We've had two months of watching how badly things can go. If her conservatism saves Canberra from experiencing what so much of the south coast has gone through - bring it on!

Cheryl Gay Cheryl Gay 8:08 pm 01 Feb 20

She’s doing a great job.

Angela Hunter Angela Hunter 7:58 pm 01 Feb 20

The ÀCT is handling their fire crisis much better than NSW and the Federal Government combined. Their prompt action is commendable.

    Brad Mann Brad Mann 8:14 pm 01 Feb 20

    Angela Hunter You are so right A lot of state should take notice of what ACT is doing

    Jack Hearps Jack Hearps 10:21 pm 01 Feb 20

    Angela Hunter been burnt before ... lessons learnt ... be prepared.

    Geoff Rey Geoff Rey 12:51 am 02 Feb 20

    It's SO good that they learnt from 03.

    Joanne Mitchell Joanne Mitchell 9:56 am 02 Feb 20

    Angela Hunter yes with Resources from NSW RFS, NZ , ADF and Queensland helping

    Colin Vine Colin Vine 12:29 pm 02 Feb 20

    I’m not sure the ACT have done substantially better than the other states.

    The fire, while not burning any ACT houses, did exactly what (almost) every other fire has done this season, run uncontrolled and impact towns....

    And it is a long way from out (although light rain is falling as I type, so there is a chance yet).

    Robyn Holder Robyn Holder 12:59 pm 02 Feb 20

    The NSW and Victorian SES and RFS had to cope with thousands of people and houses in the line of fire. I wil not say the NSW wins awards but their RFS people sure should.

    The ACT govt and ESA have done an extremely good job too especially in the face of panicking Canberrans, people wanting trigger warnings of all things in the circumstances, disaster tourists, people wanting less info, others wanting more. They've been great.

Sue O'Shea Sue O'Shea 7:54 pm 01 Feb 20

We love you Georgina. You are doing a fabulous job.

Suzanne Vincent Suzanne Vincent 7:46 pm 01 Feb 20

I am grateful she is too cautious - job well done ESA, thank you 🙏

Brad Mann Brad Mann 6:40 pm 01 Feb 20

Very glad she’s doing that I prefer to be safe than sorry. if we’re Didn’t have resources bring brought in From different states this is way out of our resources what we have in the ACT

Frank Trapani Frank Trapani 6:34 pm 01 Feb 20

Great attributes of an excellent Leader. Feeling safe and secure thanks so much.

Linda Leavitt Linda Leavitt 5:45 pm 01 Feb 20

She is very impressive - clear and calm!

Margaret Lay Margaret Lay 5:16 pm 01 Feb 20

Clear Range Fire formally the Orroral Fire? I do wish we would be able to stick to one name.

    Fiona Hedgecoe Fiona Hedgecoe 5:53 pm 01 Feb 20

    Margaret Lay I just read this on ABC news: Around noon a spot fire from the huge Orroral Valley bushfire in the ACT jumped into NSW and sparked the Clear Range fire west of Bredbo.

    Margaret Lay Margaret Lay 6:03 pm 01 Feb 20

    Fiona Hedgecoe just wished it stayed as the Orroral fire extending to Clear Range!

    Simon Hickey Simon Hickey 7:59 pm 01 Feb 20

    Margaret: it's how they manage the fire. The Orroral Valley fire is one sector, and the Clear Range Fire another, both managed by different people, and in this case states. They split the Currowin fire up the same way when it got too big.

    Margaret Lay Margaret Lay 8:33 pm 01 Feb 20

    Simon Hickey thanks Simon!

Lydia Jansen Lydia Jansen 3:17 pm 01 Feb 20

Stay safe everyone.

Lynne Audsley Lynne Audsley 2:48 pm 01 Feb 20

Stay safe. Thinking of our NSW neighbours. Stay safe xx

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