Defence launches investigation into whether training activity started Blue Mountains fire as firefighters continue the battle

Source: DailyTelegraph

LATEST NEWS ON THE NSW BUSHFIRES 

THE defence department has launched an investigation into whether a large bushfire at Lithgow on the western side of the NSW Blue Mountains was caused by training activity.

Defence confirmed today that an investigation is underway into the State Mine fire that started on Wednesday, the same day explosive ordnance training was taking place at the Marrangaroo training area.

“Defence is investigating if the two events are linked,” it said in a statement.

“The ongoing investigation… will review both the incident and Defence procedures.”

Meanwhile, firefighters continue to race against time to gain the upper hand on bushfires in the Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Southern Highlands as calmer, cooler weather provides a window of opportunity.

But the danger is far from over, Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers says.

Bushfire ravaged Singles Ridge Road, Yellow Rock. Picture: Cameron Richardson

Bushfire ravaged Singles Ridge Road, Yellow Rock. Picture: Cameron Richardson

Mr Rogers described today’s conditions as a “pause” but said worsening conditions lay ahead with higher temperatures and increasing winds forecast by Sunday.So far, more than 300 properties in the lower Blue Mountains have been damaged or destroyed by bushfires, the NSW Rural Fire Service says.

After assessing 95 per cent of the fireground in Springwood and Winmalee the RFS has been able to establish that 193 properties have been destroyed and 109 have been damaged.

That number could change following more investigations involving other fire-hit areas.

On Friday the Insurance Council of Australia said there had already been 550 claims totalling $30 million, with the number expected to rise sharply.

At 9am this morning, the RFS reported there were 83 fires burning across the state including 19 uncontained blazes.

“We have more than 500km of fire perimeter at the moment … we’re by no means out of the woods,” Mr Rogers told ABC radio. “It’s just calmed down a little bit and obviously we’re bracing ourselves for these worsening conditions.”

West of the Blue Mountains the RFS is concerned about a fire in Lithgow which is burning over 28,000 hectares and could tear through the mountains if the wind changes direction.

A fire at Winmalee, where 81 houses have so far been confirmed lost and 37 damaged, is also unlikely to be contained ahead of the changing conditions.

A 10,000 hectare fire in Balmoral remained active after crossing multiple roads, Mr Rogers said.

In Wyong, the threat to properties has reduced after a fire at Ruttleys Road burnt more than 2500 hectares and caused the death of a 63-year-old man who suffered a heart attack defending his home.

“What we have is a time for the crews to anticipate the weather coming ahead and try and get as much containment as possible and prevent that fire threatening major population centres when we get worse weather,” Mr Rogers said.

A house completely destroyed on St Georges Parade in Mt Victoria was called

A house completely destroyed on St Georges Parade in Mt Victoria was called “Sunnyside”.

The RFS will also provide revised numbers of homes lost, he said.Prime Minister Tony Abbott and NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell today announced bushfire affected communities will have access to disaster assistance.

Nineteen local council areas can now apply for relief with more expected to be announced in coming days.

“A very high level of threat still continues for many communities around NSW and emergency services and support agencies are working around the clock to contain these threats,” Mr Abbott and Mr O’Farrell said in a joint statement.

“While the extreme weather has eased, the threat for many communities is not yet over.”

Conditions on Sunday are expected to worsen, becoming drier with temperatures in the low 30s but the winds aren’t predicted to pick up.

Meteorologists believe no rain will fall over the weekend but showers could develop along the Victorian border on Monday.

From Wednesday light showers are predicted for the central and southern coasts.

Cloud is expected to form early next week, which would drop temperatures and increase the chance of rain, the BoM spokesman said.

“Cloud is good, always good,” he said.

fire

Lucas Magennis, 18, with his father Michael and mother Julie beside their Winmalee home, which was totally destroyed by fire yesterday.

A COMMUNITY IN RUINS – 100 HOMES LOST IN THE BLUE MOUNTAINS

TAYLOR AUERBACH in Yellow Rock and BEN MCCLELLAN in Mount Victoria

THE streets reveal a disaster of unimaginable proportions.

Most residents who returned yesterday to the wasteland of burnt trees and the ash-covered shells of vehicles were beyond tears, using words such as “numb” and “shocked” to describe their emotions.

Dozens of prized homes had been replaced by jagged piles of smoking rubble, while in many cases manicured lawns remain untouched out front.

Stephanie  Burton, 16, overcome with emotion as she returns to Yellow Rock in the Blue Mountains / Picture: Renee Nowytarger

Stephanie Burton, 16, overcome with emotion as she returns to Yellow Rock in the Blue Mountains / Picture: Renee Nowytarger

Tarnie Horner looks where her room once was in Yellow Rock /  Picture: Renee Nowytarger

Tarnie Horner looks where her room once was in Yellow Rock / Picture: Renee Nowytarger

Yellow Rock, near Springwood, was at the epicentre of an inferno that destroyed 1400ha of Blue Mountains bushland. Emergency workers fear more than 100 homes have been lost.

Pat Minney (blue shirt) and son Jake, 15 as they see their home that was destroyed in Winmalee.

Pat Minney (blue shirt) and son Jake, 15 as they see their home that was destroyed in Winmalee.

But only a 12-year-old cat and Cody the eight-year-old alaskan malamute are missing – presumed dead – somewhere in the desolate animal graveyard of carcasses that line the roads.

Residents feared a similar fate for one elderly man who was missing. On Thursday night police said they were dealing with a fatality and the entire township was turned into an official crime scene.

Anja Minney stands in front of her house that was totaly destroyed at Winmalee.

Anja Minney stands in front of her house that was totaly destroyed at Winmalee.

But Gordon Pendlebury, a well-known Purvines Rd character, was later found safe at Springwood Sports Club.Leanne Burton was at home when the fire struck. The first she knew about the danger was when she got a text message from her son Adam shortly after 2pm to say his school had gone into lockdown.

A burnt out car sits in front of a house destroyed by bushfires in Winmalee / Picture: AFP/Greg WOOD

A burnt out car sits in front of a house destroyed by bushfires in Winmalee / Picture: AFP/Greg WOOD

Within minutes the flames were threatening her building.Suddenly a neighbour’s four-year-old ran screaming towards her door. “I grabbed him, started driving down the street and I honestly thought I was going to die,” she said.

“There were fires all over me. The only way I got out was by following the telegraph poles, I couldn’t see the road.”

Evangeline Love returns to her house destroyed by bushfire in Winmalee with her son Jomei and brother-in-law Ruben Love.

Evangeline Love returns to her house destroyed by bushfire in Winmalee with her son Jomei and brother-in-law Ruben Love.

We’ve got the best firefighters in the world 1:30

Shane Fitzsimmons, the Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service became emotional when talking about the work of firefighters of NSW.

By the time the first warning text message from the NSW Rural Fire Service arrived, at 2.56pm, Mrs Burton had already left – and her house was gone.

Andrew New has lived in the mountains for 51 years.

“This is the worst fire I’ve seen,” he says. “It’s wiped out a whole community. This is devastation – a catastrophe.”

Trees have been replaced by black splinters. Absurdly, the leaves on top of them are still green.

“It didn’t crown,” confirms every local you ask.

About 50km west at Mount Victoria, a van was packed with cages of dead animals; gas continued to burn in the remains of one destroyed home; and a smouldering compost heap emitted heavy smoke a on St Georges Pde.

An aerial picture in the Springwood, Winmalee area showing burnt houses and properties.

An aerial picture in the Springwood, Winmalee area showing burnt houses and properties.

It was clear that the firefighters and homeowners never had a chance of overcoming the flames. The fire – under control yesterday afternoon, although it continued to burn north of the town – had ripped through Mount York Rd, St Georges Pde and the Darling Causeway in the rural hamlet, destroying a dozen homes and numerous vehicles.Mick Corrigan, who stayed behind despite threats by firefighters to call the police to remove him, saved his home and his neighbour’s home.

Resident Sean Butler stands in front of his 1958 bus after fighting a fire / Picture: AAP/Dean Lewins

Resident Sean Butler stands in front of his 1958 bus after fighting a fire / Picture: AAP/Dean Lewins

He says a couple up the road was forced to abandon the van full of animals.”They lost all their chickens. They had their cats in the van when it exploded,” he said.

“It (the heat) was intense.

“I feel really burnt, hot, my eyes felt like they’ve got a welding flash out of it.

“I could hardly breathe.”

Those whose houses survived were offering their neighbours food, clothing and a place to sleep.

Fire boss says worst could still come

Fire rages in the Catherine Hill Bay area / Picture Waide Maguire.

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