1 February 2020

Tharwa residents still feeling safe in face of unpredictable Orroral Valley fire threat

| Michael Weaver
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Members of the Rural Fire Service in Queensland with a community member south of Tharwa on 31 January. Photo: Michael Weaver, Region Media.

As weather conditions worsen into the weekend, the owners of the Tharwa Country Store say they’re still feeling safe despite the predicted spread mapping of the Orroral Valley Fire.

“I don’t feel threatened here,” store owner Kevin Jeffery told Region Media, which was given access parts of the fire ground yesterday.

“The winds are still heading towards the south-east, and if I was down there, I’d feel nervous, but certainly here in Tharwa, it’s reasonably safe,” Mr Jeffery said last night (31 January).

Owner of the Tharwa Country Store and Rural Fire Service member, Kevin Jeffery. Photo: Michael Weaver, Region Media.

The ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) agrees, but Mr Jeffery believes the ESA’s predicted spread map of the Orroral fire for today (1 February) doesn’t take into consideration the fuel and terrain once the fire comes out of the Namadgi National Park.

While the fire is “slowly creeping north” towards the west of Canberra, Mr Jeffery said the terrain is all farmland in between the Park and the southern suburbs of Canberra.

“That farmland is bare bone. It is that dry that farmers have been feeding hay to their animals for three or four months now, and that means that the animals have already eaten all the grass on the ground.

“It is true that fire moves faster across grassland, and there are a few trees in what’s called a woodland terrain that this fire could burn into, but once you get out into that open country, it won’t spot anywhere near as much.”

“The latest fire prediction map shows 50 per cent of the fire moving off the flank, but I don’t see that very often”.

The predicted spread map of the Orroral Valley Fire for 1 February. Photo: ESA

ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said the prediction maps are exactly that, but their prediction shows Tharwa in the middle of the potential spread area. The RFS has repeatedly characterised the spread of the Orroral Valley fire as highly unpredictable.

The ESA’s 9:00 am update today says the fire, currently 33,506 hectares, will move slowly in a south-easterly direction.

Fire conditions today will again become erratic and volatile. Heavy spotting is anticipated to the east, south and west of the main fire today.

“There is active fire at the Orroral Valley Fire, and community members in Tharwa Village, Boboyan Road, Apollo Road, Top Naas Road and Nass Road need to remain vigilant,” Commissioner Whelan said this morning.

“This fire is expected to cross the border into NSW today. Once this happens, the eastern flank will be known as the Clear Range Fire, with the response and public information managed by NSW Rural Fire Service.”

The NSW Rural Fire Service said fire activity of the Clear Range fire is increasing and the fire is spotting to the northwest of Bredbo.

Kevin Jeffery believes the threat to Canberra is from the Orroral fire’s western flank.

“It’s moving west, purely because there isn’t a lot of wind and the trees are so dry. It’s terrain and fuel-driven, but the trees are near dead already.

“In recent weeks, all across Canberra, we look at hills and go, ‘oh, has the bushfire been through there’, but no, it’s just dead already.

“What that means is that the fire will move through conduction and convection, so it will continue to crawl west.”

Mr Jeffery hopes to see some strategic backburns occur once the extreme heat settles down next week.

“I would like to see from this Sunday onwards, when the fire danger indexes are coming right down to very manageable levels. These numbers are currently too high to fight a fire with equipment.

“But once you see a fire danger index coming down below 30, which is what we’re looking at on Monday and Tuesday, you can do a hell of a lot of actual attacking.

“Without that, it’s drawing the fire out a lot longer and it has the potential to do more things if you don’t actually deal with it,” Mr Jeffery said.

“The longer you let it go, the more chance you get of having a bad day.

The ESA continues to say there is no immediate threat to the southern suburbs of the ACT, however, conditions can change quickly.

The video below from the Specialist Intelligence Gathering (SIG) helicopter shows retardant and water-bombing aircraft working on the Orroral Valley Fire yesterday.

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