“Weeks not days” – Community hears of plan to tackle Bega Valley fire

Ian Campbell 21 August 2018
Around 150 people packed into the Brogo RFS shed for a community meeting about the Yankees Gap Fire. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Around 150 people packed into the Brogo RFS shed for a community meeting about the Yankees Gap Fire. Photo: Ian Campbell.

People living in the midst of the Yankees Gap Fire gathered last night (August 20) to hear how the flames that have haunted Bemboka, Numbugga, and Brogo for the last 6 days are going to be tamed.

“We are moving from a reactive stage to a major containment operation,” says Pam O’Brien, Deputy Incident Controller, National Parks and Wildlife Service.

“The objective is to reduce the risk to you people as soon as possible and as effectively as possible.”

Back burning is underway, guided by a 24-hour firefighting roster. Over the next two to three weeks the fire ground will more than double its current size of 5,976 hectares.

The first priority of the operation is to secure the eastern edge of the fire that skirts the Brogo community leading up to Brogo Dam, from there ground crews will start to burn west using the Brogo River as a containment line, before swinging back south to meet the already burnt ground in the mountains west of Bemboka township.

Helicopters dropping aerial incendiary devices will deepen the effort across inaccessible wilderness areas.

“We have secured the southern end [of the fire], crews right now are starting on the eastern edge, this is the most critical area where most of our recourses are going,” Ms O’Brien says.

Five aircraft, 30 bulldozers, and at least 100 people are currently working on the blaze which has destroyed three homes and five outbuildings since it lept from a private hazard reduction burn on Yankees Gap Road last Wednesday in 80km/hr winds.

“We expect to get to the [Brogo] dam by Thursday, we are very confident of securing the eastern edge,” Ms O’Brien says.

Yankees Gap Fire from Carp Street Bega at 2pm August 15. Photo: Ian Campbell

Yankees Gap Fire from Carp Street Bega at 2 pm August 15. Photo: Ian Campbell

In terms of the weather forecast for the days ahead, Brogo local and RFS Fire Behaviour Analyst Dave Philp is confident the strategy in play will hold.

“This [the fire] will be more driven by the topography rather than by high-pressure systems and low-pressure systems,” he says.

“On Friday we’ll get a little bit of instability, and there is the forecast of some rain into the weekend, the Weather Bureau is talking of 8 to 10 mm being possible.

“After that period, the prospects are fairly calm from a fire standpoint, nothing of concern that would drive the fire out of Wadbilliga.”

That said, residents in Brogo and surrounding areas including Desert Creek Road, Hawks Head Road, and Dorrigo Road are advised to monitor the situation closely.

Brogo RFS volunteer, Dave Lucas added a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective last night that focussed peoples thinking.

“We have to make some really tough calls when we drive into driveways,”

Mr Lucas says.

“When we see people’s houses we have to decide whether we can put crews in there or not.

“Sometimes we have to decide that your house is unsavable, it is one of the hardest decisions to make in my role – to say, “we can’t save that persons house” and I hate doing it.

“If we can get a fire truck in, if it’s clean around your house and those crews are safe, we will do our best to save your property.

“If it is not clean, if it has a dodgy driveway and is overgrown and not safe for us to get in there, the best thing you can do is get out early.”

Mr Lucas says he is comfortable with the plan ahead and the weather forecast but warned of the summer that looms.

“This could kick on for months, rain is the only thing that is going to work on this fire.”

With family memories that stretch back to the devastating 1952 fires that sprung from the same hills and burnt to the coast, Mr Lucas urged his community to be alert and look out for each other.

“I am worried hearing about people relying on emails and text messages, it didn’t work at Tathra because it happened so fast,” he says.

“Yes it’s good to have the technology, but in Tathra it was ‘seat of your pants stuff,’ the community saved each others lives by door knocking each other and looking after themselves.”

Mr Lucas urged the 150 people gathered to understand the conditions that might put their lives and properties at risk.

The Yankees Gap Fire has grown to almost 6,000 hectares over the last 6 days. Photo: Daniel A Osborne Facebook.

The Yankees Gap Fire has grown to almost 6,000 hectares over the last 6 days. Photo: Daniel A Osborne Facebook.

Rural Fire Service, Community Liason Officer, Marty Webster says people should use the break to carry on with property preparations.

“This is a timely prompt that we have got a difficult fire season ahead of us,” he says.

“Sure you guys [Brogo] are going to be in a better position by having a big black area to your west but I really encourage people to incorporate property preparation into your routine.

“Focus on the things closest to your assets, I see a lot of people clearing up the back paddock, that’s great when you can get to it but it’s the simple things around the house that really make all the difference – gutters clean, removing debris, short grass, cleaning up that fine fuel is a valuable way to spend your time.”

Given the campaign ahead will run weeks not days, Mr Webster says the Yankees Gap Fire will start to become a constant in people’s lives and that people will become fatigued.

“The bottom line is there is going to be a lot of smoke, there is no avoiding it, and there is a good chance that overnight it is going to settle down on top of you,” he says.

“People with respiratory conditions really need to take that into account and think about how you are going to deal with that.

“And if people are finding it all stressful please seek help, don’t let it build up, talk about it,” Mr Webster says.

The Yankees Gap Road Fire, August 15. Photo: Rachel Helmreich

The Yankees Gap Road Fire, August 15. Photo: Rachel Helmreich

To stay up to date with the latest advice go to the NSW Rural Fire Service website.

*This story first appeared on About Regional.

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