3 February 2020

Strength in numbers as Orroral fire burns almost one quarter of ACT

| Michael Weaver
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A water-bombing helicopter over the Orroral Valley Fire south of Tharwa on 31 January. Photo: Michael Weaver, Region Media.

Air and land firefighting crews from around Australia and the ACT are today continuing to strengthen containment lines around Mt Tennent and the southern suburbs of Canberra, as fire activity for the Orroral Valley eased overnight and this morning (2 February).

The Orroral Valley fire has now burnt almost one-quarter of the ACT and is currently 55,234 hectares in size.

It was downgraded to advice level at 2:36 pm today, and while the main front continues to burn away from Canberra in a south-easterly direction, firefighters on the ground are dealing with the risk of fallen or burnt trees.

ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) commissioner Georgeina Whelan said this morning her teams are also dealing with the risks from a storm that is predicted for later today that could contribute to changing or worsening conditions. She said aerial patrols will monitor any possible outbreaks.

A second Queensland Strike Team of 36 firefighters has now arrived and will travel to the fire grounds after a briefing from Chief Officer of the ACT Rural Fire Service Joe Murphy.

After a successful firefighting day yesterday, Commissioner Whelan said today’s efforts will focus on strengthening containment lines with some active firefighting to the south.

Yesterday, a number of properties were destroyed by the Clear Range fire in the Bumbalong area, between Bredbo and Michelago.

There was good news with a number of important heritage sites in the Namadgi National Park saved by firefighting efforts yesterday.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said these sites included the Glendale Depot, Hospital Creek Hut, the Yankee Hat Shed and Indigenous rock art and boardwalk, Max and Bert Oldfield’s Hut, the Booth Repeater and Gudgenby Homestead.

There is also no threat to the ACT’s power supply at Williamsdale.

Orroral Valley fire

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

Commissioner Whelan said the Orroral Valley fire had burnt out of containment lines at Mt Franklin, near the western border of the ACT and NSW.

At Mt Tennent, the fire has burnt slowly down the mountain against the prevailing wind to containment lines that are between 50 and 100 metres wide.

The fire is currently 1.2km from Tharwa and 6.4km from the nearest Canberra suburb of Gordon.

“Firefighters are teasing this fire down to a bare earth firebreak where they will seek to undertake direct attack, containment and control of this fire,” Commissioner Whelan said.

“There are five lines of defence from this fire line to Tharwa and on to Gordon.”

The commissioner also said the Orroral Valley fire is a “campaign fire” that they will be fighting for weeks ahead, with a more immediate four to five-day firefighting cycle.

Part of that strategy includes moving additional resources to protect Tidbinbilla and Corin Forest to the north of where the fire is slowly creeping.

“We are well aware that as the wind changes and fire conditions increase, the topography and the fuel load is really going to continue to challenge us in those areas in the coming days.

“We are working on further significant containment lines in between that northern edge of the fire front and Corin Road, with access, where available, being fully utilised by our firefighters.

“Tidbinbilla has had a lot of work done to it. It is probably the most prepared area in terms of vital asset and critical infrastructure protection.”

Commissioner Whelan said the fire index ratings are good for Monday and Tuesday.

“The temperature is moderate for a couple of days, we will monitor the winds, but it is dry and I don’t think we’re going to get a lot of rain today.

“We hope we get a lot of rain and we’re ready for a flood in the forest, but unfortunately we’ve got a number of challenging days ahead of us.”

The Orroral Valley fire as seen from Tidbinbilla. Photo: David Marriott via The Canberra Page.

ACT Policing’s Chief Police Officer, Assistant Commissioner Ray Johnson, said police have had to deal with “more people than they would like” who have been trying to get past roadblocks or disrupt emergency services operating in the southern Canberra suburbs.

“My call to people is that this is breathtakingly dangerous and diverts the resources of emergency services agencies and police from the work they are doing,” he said.

Meanwhile, more than 7500 households in Canberra have been doorknocked by emergency services personnel. Doorknocking will continue in Bonython today.

A total fire ban remains in place until midnight of 2 February, however, Commissioner Whelan said she may extend the fire ban if conditions do not ease.

The ESA continues to advise people in the vicinity of Apollo Road, Boboyan Road, Naas Road and Top Naas Road to remain vigilant. People in Banks, Conder and Gordon need to stay up to date.

An evacuation centre at Erindale College remains open and is operating 24 hours a day as required. The centre is open to all who need assistance, including people in NSW. The centre provides basic supplies, food and drinks. People with a disability are welcome, as are those with pets.

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Capital Retro3:26 pm 03 Feb 20

The southern end of the Tinderry mountains is now well alight from embers and the fire could go anywhere the wind blows it now. Lots of property being destroyed.

Capital Retro5:24 pm 03 Feb 20

Forget it – it’s old news already.

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