29 January 2020

UPDATED: Orroral fire downgraded to advice as Tharwa lockdown lifted

| Dominic Giannini
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An air-tanker dropping fire retardant on the fire near Tharwa Drive. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

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 11:30 am: 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 eclipsed 10,00 hectares and remains out of control. The blaze is expected to expand today, with challenging fire weather being driven by high temperatures and low humidity.

Spot fires were travelling well ahead of the blaze last night, with one igniting close to Tharwa Village, north of Spring Station Creek.

Tharwa Community Association President, Kevin Jeffery, told Region Media that residents were prepared for the fire, and spotting last night was minimal.

An elderly couple and a man with a severe heart condition evacuated Tharwa Village but all other residents remained.

“We were well prepared here in the village, we know what is going on and where the fire is,” Mr Jeffery said.

“The actual emergency message made us a lot more anxious than we needed to be. I was talking to people on the phone who were at the fire and I knew where it was and what it was doing.

“For a period of half-an-hour we were quite anxious, then it all calmed down.

“When that big wind change came through at around 8 pm there were a few things going on because there were spots coming but they were really easy to put out. It was cold and the humidity was around 80 per cent by then.

“At 11 pm it all died down and went into a chill so we all went to bed.”

The local Rural Fire Service (RFS) brigade had about four trucks stationed in Tharwa, while the urban fire brigade had about four or five more.

“During the night we had one spot on the back of the hill, one up towards Booroomba, a couple further east over the Murrumbidgee I think, so four or five all up,” Mr Jeffery said.

“As I understand, there were a few in and around Mount Tennent just outside the fire area but that is going to burn anyway.

“The urban fire brigade were here until around 11 pm and our local RFS brigade had their trucks here until around 1:30 am, and then it was just too dead so they went home.”

View from pine island homestead. Photo: Harry Olivier Travis Munier via The Canberra Page.

President of the Smiths Road RFS Brigade, Peter Henry, told Region Media that a few spots were extinguished in the afternoon but there were no major incidents throughout the night.

“We had our three trucks ready but once the easterly came through we relaxed,” he said.

“We had a crew patrolling until around 10:30 – 11:00 pm last night looking for spotting. We are expecting a pretty benign day today but we still have two crews out on patrol at the moment.

“The ACT had some crews up towards Angle Crossing Road and Williamsdale looking after the electricity sub-station that was up there.”

Emergency Services Agency (ESA) Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said that crews will continue to work on strengthening containment and control lines, and fire trails today.

The ESA has warned the public that fire activity is increasing along the western front, which is inaccessible to on-ground firefighting. Water-bombing aircraft will be utilised as needed.

“The fire is travelling in a northeast and easterly direction towards Mount Tennent, 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 to 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.”

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has described the fire as “the most severe fire that the ACT has seen since 2003” and it is expected to burn for a number of weeks.

All off-duty ACT Fire and Rescue staff, as well as all available ACT RFS volunteers, have been recalled to make sure 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.

People who are sensitive to smoke, especially those with pre-existing heart and lung conditions, are being urged to take extra care during these conditions.

Visit ACT Health for information on ways you can reduce the impact of smoke: https://www.health.act.gov.au/public-health-alert/heavy-smoke-and-hot-conditions-act

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