4 January 2020

The heat is on but the ACT is fully prepared, say Territory chiefs

| Michael Weaver
Join the conversation
Andrew Barr press conference

“We are ready and prepared,” says ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr (centre) at a press conference this afternoon (4 January). Also pictured (from left) is the Auslan interpreter, Chief Police Officer Ray Johnson, Emergency Services Minister Mick Gentleman, and ESA commissioner Georgeina Whelan. Photo: Michael Weaver, Region Media.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Emergency Services Agency commissioner Georgeina Whelan said the entire ACT is prepared and ready, with a fire that is currently less than four kilometres from the Territory’s southern border in remote bushland.

ESA commissioner Georgeina Whelan said they are keeping a very close eye on all borders and beyond as emergency level fires spread to the west and south-west of Canberra.

The Adaminaby Complex Fire is the immediate concern, but Ms Whelan said it posed no threat to homes in the ACT (as of 6:30 pm, 4 January).

“There are currently spot fires from the ACT’s southern border,” Ms Whelan said this evening.

“Fire activity has increased and we are continuing to monitor the situation. There is no current threat to homes in the ACT from this activity [at Adaminaby].

The video below, released by the ESA, shows footage captured by Firebird 100 of spot fires 4km from the southern ACT border near the remote area of the Namadgi National Park.

Ms Whelan said a strike team from the ACT has been deployed to Adaminaby today to assist with fires burning near the Kosciuszko National Park. The strike team will remain there for 12 hours before returning later tonight.

“The nearest property from the spot fires is 25 km, so there is no current threat from these spot fires and we will continue to work to save historic assets in the area.”

“The deployment will not affect the number of emergency services personnel here in Canberra, as we still have 90 per cent of our personnel available,” Ms Whelan said.

She said smoky conditions would continue to affect Canberra, with a change at about 10:00 pm expected to bring smoke from the east tonight. This smoke would be from the South Coast fires and not those burning to the south of the ACT.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the smoke could last for a number of days and has already spread into Canberra’s hospitals, where ACT Health is working to clear the air

The Chief Minister said he has also written a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison today about whether payments to volunteer firefighters in other jurisdictions would be offered to volunteers here in the ACT.

“I formally wrote to the Prime Minister today, but it was foreshadowed with his office some time ago about getting payments to those who have volunteered here in the ACT,” Mr Barr said.

“I think we are well prepared but if there is anything further that is needed, either at this level of government or through liaison with the Commonwealth, then we will, of course, ask the Commonwealth for assistance and continue to work closely with NSW if there is anything that is needed there.

“We stand ready to assist as always.

“We have just experienced our hottest ever day. The wind conditions remain very strong, it’s obviously a day of extreme fire danger. Canberra people are experiencing this uncomfortable day. There is a lot of anxiety in the community,” Mr Barr said.

ESA commissioner Ms Whelan said they will continue to monitor conditions with their colleagues in NSW and provide immediate updates on the ESA website, which has had more than 90,000 views to date.

A total fire ban will remain in place in the ACT until midnight tomorrow (5 January).

“ACT residents may see smoke from the Adaminaby fire and the Dunns Road fire to the west as a consequence of its intensity. Please do not be alarmed. We will update you if a fire encroaches into the ACT.”

Ms Whelan said their emergency pop-up centres proved very helpful yesterday and today and will remain in place tomorrow at West Belconnen, Woden, Tuggeranong, Coolamon Court, Dickson and Gungahlin.

“The community is urged to use these pop-ups if they are out and about,” Ms Whelan said.

Pop-up centres are open from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm at the following locations:

  • Westfield Belconnen
  • Westfield Woden
  • South.Point Tuggeranong
  • Cooleman Court Shopping Centre, Weston.

Ms Whelen said there are no evacuation centres required in the ACT at this stage, but they would be set up if required.

Ms Whelen also noted that to date, the ESA has undertaken no door-knocking activity in Canberra suburbs.

“We have a number of official people out there in the community giving advice, but we have had no official door-knocking activity in the ACT. We have many emergency services personnel out there and community fire unit personnel checking around the suburbs.

“You will see them in a blue uniform. So, if you have somebody knocking on your door, that is not an ESA activity and I would question the advice that has been given and pass on your concerns to ACT Policing,” Ms Whelan said.

Due to the bushfire crisis, Defence has opened bases from Brisbane to Adelaide for the use of people needing short-term evacuation assistance.

You can seek shelter at any Defence base in an emergency. In the ACT, the HMAS Harman – Gangway, HMAS Harman is available.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
Capital Retro5:42 pm 05 Jan 20

The ABC reports: “Spot fires from the Adaminaby Complex fire are burning a short distance from the southern tip of the territory, however, even if they cross the border they remain 25 kilometres from the nearest ACT property, according to the Emergency Services Agency (ESA).” which is what is also reported on this thread.

How long did the 2003 Canberra fire take to travel 25 kms? The NSW RFS states the Adaminaby Complex fires are “out of control” so I derive no comfort from the “safe distance” being inferred by the ESA given the fact that the smoke is getting thicker and the southerly wind is persisting.

Someone please assure me that we are “safe”.

What was the weather and winds like in 2003? Obviously nothing like what it was back then.

The other difference is we now don’t have massive pine plantations metres away from houses. So would say without a doubt that if the fire you spoke of did move into the ACT and near Canberra the result won’t be anything like 2003.

Capital Retro8:23 am 06 Jan 20

The weather was totally calm at my Tuggeranong home during the 2003 bushfire yet on the top of nearby Mt Wanniassa it was difficult to stay on ones’s feet; the wind was so strong. It has been very calm also during the current bushfires.

And yes, we still have pine plantations in Tuggeranong – Isaacs Ridge and Fadden Pines to name two. Both are adjacent to residences. There has also been extensive plantings of radiata on and around Mt Stromlo since 2003.

Capital Retro4:19 pm 05 Jan 20

Did the fires end up damaging electricity generating infrastructure in the Snowy Mountains and is all this smoke affecting the ability of solar panels to generate electricity? If so, won’t this make them useless if fires like this become an annual event.

Also, I know of one person who was injured falling off a ladder while attempting to clean his solar panels. His feedback from the hospital bed where he is recovering is that he isn’t the only one.

From what I read in the end the issue with the transmission lines was arcing due to the particles in the smoke that required the lines to be turned off to prevent more fire and for the safety of the fire fighters.

As for solar sure it is not as effective in smoke but a tad alarmist to say they will be useless if this happens every year.

What is happened is clearly unprecedented and is a combination of events that are making it all super bad. No doubt in the years to come we will have bushfires but would suggest it will be many years before the right combination meets again to create what we have now. And even if it does it doesn’t mean we will get the same result. The smoke for example next time might end up converging somewhere other than Canberra.

And of course with solar even if there are a dozen smoky days a year where it isn’t as effective there are still 350 odd days where it is more than effective.

Capital Retro8:30 am 06 Jan 20

The smoke engulfing Canberra has happenned before so it is not “unprecendented” and with coal powered thermal generators electricity supply is effective 24/365 (366 this year).

Thanks for the explanation of arcing, that makes a lot of sense. I think there have been problems in the ACT in past with gossamer in junction boxes causing arcing.

Smoke is not unprecedented, but smoke of this intensity and longevity certainly is. Care to advise when it has been this bad?

I’ve never seen smoke and pollution so bad, and I have lived in and visited places that are normally some of the worst in the world.

Oh and coal is not 24/365 either. It too can “break down” and have other issues. The fire at Eraring (where interestingly my father used to drive a coal truck from the Newstan mine to Eraring power station almost every day) certainly reduced available capacity whilst it was down and being repaired.

Indeed the issue with the hydro supply at the weekend could have just as easily happened to our coal supplied lines too if the fires north of the Hawkesbury had of been closer to the main feeder lines from the Hunter to Sydney.

Oh and I mentioned my father above, he spent his whole working life driving trucks, mostly delivering coal in the Hunter and I was surprised when I visited him at Christmas that even he is waking up to the fact that we cannot go on as we have done before burning coal. Whilst he doesn’t have any respiratory problems as we were cleaning the coal dust of his house on Boxing Day he said to me he wonders what it has done to him. He is now almost 77. Many of his work mates and older neighbours who have breathed the dust from passing trucks and trains and the smoke output from Eraring are not so lucky.

@Peter McMahon … ok I’ll bite – to what “action” are you referring that Barr has been missing? Seriously – the rusted in rights and looney left need to take a break from social media and stop trying to score points for their respective ideologies . This article seems like a practical and informative heads up for all citizens in the ACT not opportunistic grand standing (and let’s face it Barr is pretty good at grand standing but even he understands the “time and place” principle).

Oh just to clarify … I’m referring to my post above about ‘… rusted on rights and looney lefts taking a break from social media …’ @Garry Inglebert (sic) Humperdink Galli – the link you provided is to a post that cites an article written by “Mr. Objectivity” himself, Alan Jones … hence Q.E.D.

Capital Retro8:37 am 06 Jan 20

That’s a great read by Alan Jones.

Yes it is for those who place any credibility in Jones’s “my opinion is the only opinion” philosophy. I suspect as usual Jones is half right as there is always another side of the equation … there probably could have been more preparatory burning off but the authorities have been cautious (perhaps overly, with hindsight) due to the diminished window of opportunity from climate change – something which objective rural fire experts have acknowledged … but obviously climate change doesn’t exist in Jones’s and his acolyte’s world so he couldn’t possibly acknowledge the contribution it has on these extraordinary conditions.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.