13 January 2020

ESA Commissioner reassures a worried community about fire threat

| Michael Weaver
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ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner Georgeina Whelan

ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner, Georgeina Whelan, during a smoking ceremony last year. Photo: File.

The ACT Emergency Services Agency Commissioner, Georgeina Whelan, has moved to reassure a worried Canberra community over its fears that fires to the south and west of the ACT border will pose a threat to the community.

The commissioner made the comments while addressing the media this afternoon (10 January).

“I absolutely acknowledge the anxiety right across our community. I understand the stress. I appreciate the concern. As the ESA Commissioner, as a wife and as a mother of four children, I’m managing my family as you are managing yours,” Commissioner Whelan said.

“I’m also managing many emergency services staff who have lived through the 2003 bushfires, so let’s work through this together as a team.”

The Commissioner and the Chief Minister Andrew Barr both reiterated that the fires do not currently pose an immediate threat to homes in the ACT.

“I stress the point that I have made on several occasions,” Commissioner Whelan said.

“These fires are unpredictable. The weather is unpredictable and I ask Canberrans to remain alert to the fact that I cannot guarantee fires will not encroach our borders and will not reach our urban interface.”

Commissioner Whelan said while there have been two grass and bush fires in Canberra today, they were extinguished very quickly.

There are four main fire grounds the ESA is keeping a close eye on with their NSW Rural Fire Service colleagues. These fires continue to burn to the west and south-west of Canberra’s border.

Fires near the ACT

A screenshot of the fires burning near the ACT border as of 5:00 pm, 10 January. Image: NSW RFS.

The Atkinson Fire, at advice level, is burning 20 km west of the ACT border and 45 km from urban areas. The Commissioner said this fire has increased by 100 per cent since yesterday and there is fire activity on all edges of the fire ground. The fire is being fire-bombed from the air only, as the terrain makes on-ground firefighting impossible.

The Mt Morgan Fire is also burning to the south-west of Canberra. Commissioner Whelan said there was no active fire front at 2:00 pm today.

The third fire is the Adaminaby Complex Fire, which is the closest to the ACT’s southern border. The Commissioner said this fire is 4 km from the southern ACT border and 45 km from urban areas. Fire crews are working on small spot fires being fuelled by north-west winds. A southerly change later this evening may push the fire to the north towards the ACT border. There are more than 100 firefighters and heavy appliances working to establish containment lines ahead of the wind change.

The Dunns Road Fire is 50 km from Canberra’s urban area. It is a large fire that has already burnt more than 300,000 hectares. There are more than 50 heavy plant vehicles establishing containment lines. There are currently no fires on the eastern edge of the fire ground, but Commissioner Whelan said they will monitor the fire closely during the next 12-24 hours.

There is also fire activity near Blowering Dam and it is expected that the Hume Highway may be closed.

There are also very large aircraft and the ACT’s Firebird 100 helicopter working out of Canberra Airport to drop fire retardant and perform surveillance activities.

The Commissioner said she would like to thank the community for its support of her firefighters and all the support staff and volunteers from across the ACT have given their efforts in working to keep the community safe.

“As the commissioner, I now ask the media to work with me to help keep our community alert and not alarmed,” Commissioner Whelan said.

“I have committed to keeping the community informed and up to date about what I know and as soon as I know it, and I ask the community and the media to continue to work with the ESA on what we acknowledge is an unprecedented event.

“I ask this as I do not want any misinformation to undermine the confidence of the community, the firefighters and those providing support, day in and day out.”

ACT Policing Chief Police Officer, Assistant Commissioner Ray Johnson, also said the community has been vigilant in reporting any suspicious activities in the ACT.

This follows confirmed reports of a small grass fire near Woodcock Drive and Preddey Way at Gordon today.

Following analysis of the scene, police and fire investigators believe the fire was deliberately lit. The circumstances surrounding the fire are being investigated.

Assistant Commissioner Ray Johnson said police will continue to patrol specific areas in the ACT during total fire bans to deter and detect any suspicious activity or anti-social behaviour.

Police ask that anyone who may have witnessed the incident or has information about the fire, including CCTV footage or dashcam footage from around the area, to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or via the Crime Stoppers ACT website. Please quote 6483281. Information can be provided anonymously.

For up to date information in the ACT, monitor the ACT Emergency Services Agency, or follow ESA Twitter and Facebook, or call Access Canberra on 13 22 81.

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Capital Retro6:26 pm 11 Jan 20

I just looked at the BOM weather radar and it shows extensive smoke coming from a line of fires to the south of Canberra. A new fire has started just south west of Mt Bimberi and the wind in the area is about 20 kmh from the south. There is very little detail on the NSW RFS maps howver the Adaminaby Copmplex fire has been ” threat upgraded” and it would appear that fires are again burning on the eastern edge of the fire front.

I would like to know where the containment lines are being contstructed as the Dunns Rd Fire must now be less than 40 kms from urban Canberra.

Why isn’t there back-burning underway along the Murrumbidgee corridor? I know they are doing their best but it looks like another 2003 fait accompli coming up.

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