Update 1:30 pm: The Orroral fire has been downgraded to advice. There is limited activity on the eastern edge of the fire, however there is an increase in fire activity on the western side and active fire on the northern side of the fireground.
The fire is still out of control and is currently 10,492 hectares in size.
“There is active fire at the Orroral Valley Fire, and community members in Tharwa Village, Boboyan Road, Apollo Road, and Top Naas Road need to remain vigilant,” an ESA spokesperson said.
“If you do not need to be in this area, it is still best for your safety to not enter or return. There is currently no immediate threat to properties in Canberra suburbs.
“People in Banks, Gordon, Conder, Calwell, and Theodore should continue to monitor conditions and stay up to date.”
Update 8:30 am, 29 January: The Orroral fire, which had been burning at an emergency level, was downgraded to watch and act due to moderate conditions overnight.
The fire has reached 9,500 hectares with challenging fire weather predicted to expand the blaze for the coming weekend, driven by extremely high temperatures and low humidity.
“The fire is travelling in a northeast and easterly direction towards Mount Tennant, Tharwa Village, Boboyan Road and Top Naas Road,” an ESA spokesperson said.
“Overnight, there has been an increase in fire activity on the western side of the fire.
“Firefighters are on scene patrolling but there is currently no immediate threat to properties in Canberra suburbs.
“Community members in Tharwa Village, Boboyan Road, Apollo Road, and Top Naas Road need to remain vigilant. Monitor conditions and know what you will do if the fire threatens.
“If you do not need to be in this area, it is still best for your safety to not enter or return.”
All off-duty ACT Fire and Rescue staff, as well as all available ACT RFS volunteers, have been recalled to make sure that there are enough resources to protect the southern urban areas of the ACT.
Smoke from the blaze is expected to linger around the capital until at least midday, while a total fire ban remains in place across the ACT until midnight 31 January.
Current 10:30 pm: The Orroral Valley fire, which continues to burn out of control in the Namadgi National Park, now covers over 8000 hectares and has been described by the Chief Minister as “the most severe fire that the ACT has seen since 2003”.
The fire will continue to burn for a number of weeks, and while the wind has dropped slightly, the fire remains active and uncontrolled tonight.
Fire activity from the Orroral valley blaze has dropped slightly with cooler evening conditions, but the RFS is warning that the blaze will take weeks to completely control. Ahead of heatwave conditions later this week, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has described the fire as the most significant risk to the ACT since 2003.
Posted by The RiotACT on Tuesday, 28 January 2020
One of the major risks is that the fire could spot to within one kilometre of Canberra’s southernmost suburbs. The fires that the public can see along Mount Tennant are spot fires that have travelled ahead of the main blaze Emergency Services Agency (ESA) Georgeina Whelan said.
There is a spot fire close to Tharwa Village, north of Spring Station Creek and firefighters are on scene supported by a dozer.
RFS chief Joe Murphy said that road crews are patrolling extensively to mediate the risk of spotting on the roads around Tharwa. A strike team has been stationed in both Tharwa and Banks as a precaution.
Doorknocking is currently underway in the suburbs of Bank, Gordon and Conder but the ESA is making it clear that no evacuation order is currently in place and that ESA staff are there to assist with information and support only.
“The ESA is preparing for a number of different scenarios regarding this fire, this is the most serious situation we have faced since the 2003 bushfires”, the Chief Minister said.
Fires have already begun spotting at Lobbs Hole near the Monaro Highway at Williamsdale, and the roads around Tharwa have been shut because of fears that spotting fires around the community would trap residents travelling along Naas Road, Tharwa Drive and Tidbinbilla road.
The fire is currently travelling in a northeasterly and easterly direction. Dire activity increased significantly after the cloud cover lifted this afternoon.
Erratic fire behaviour will continue well into the evening, Commissioner Whelan said.
“Conditions are very dangerous. There is currently no threat to Canberra suburbs but you need to remain alert,” she said.
“The fire is burning 12km from our nearest suburbs but is spotting ahead of the main fire. We are working with ACT Police on a doorknock to the southern Tuggeranong suburbs to provide advice about the fire situation and assist you with decision making.
The fire had been increasing at more than 400 hectares an hour and created its own weather patterns, soaring up Mount Tennent.
With each 10 degrees of incline, fire speeds double. Once the fire reaches the peak, a lee side eddy occurs, which is fireman speak for the hot air and wind cycle back in on itself on the other side of the slope, and its own weather system is created.
ESA Risk Analyst, Rick McRae explains fire behaviour and different weather influences on fire travel.
Fire footage credit: Gary Hooker, ACTRFS. pic.twitter.com/wI7XjaGUAz
— ACT ESA (@ACT_ESA) January 29, 2020
“This fire will burn for several weeks. The weather this evening is not favourable for firefighting and the conditions are extremely difficult to control, “ Commissioner Whelan said.
“Gusts of up to 40km/h have increased fire activity and as a consequence, the smoke plumes you are seeing have increased because this fire is creating its own weather pattern.
“The hot uphill runs into the rugged terrain are drawing drier air from higher up, and this is creating local fire winds and dangerous and erratic fire behaviour.
“This is what has triggered the spotting to the north, northeast and east of the fire.
“We are experiencing what our neighbours in NSW and Victoria have been experiencing in recent weeks, and that is hot dry weather with enormous fuel loading.”
Due to safety concerns, no further liaison officers will be placed in Tharwa this evening. However, all off-duty ACT Fire and Rescue staff, as well as all available ACT RFS volunteers, have been recalled to make sure that there is enough resources to protect the southern urban areas of the ACT.
There are 27 vehicles currently on the fireground, supported with five helicopters, three light planes, two large air-tankers and one very large air-tanker.
Commissioner Whelan said the priority is to slow down and contain this fire. Help will be provided to those who need it during an evacuation.
“If you do not have transport, transport will be made available through Transport Canberra. We will put buses on and assist people to relocate if it is required.”
The ESA has requested assistance from NSW to assist them tomorrow and strike teams are arriving in the ACT. If you’re in the south, you can also expect to see bulldozers and graders on the fire scene and flashing lights into the night.