A thunderstorm has had minimal impact on a bushfire raging in Canberra’s south-west, with rain barely reaching the site.
The 147-hectare blaze, which started at Pierces Creek on Thursday night, was still seven kilometres from the closest suburb of Kambah when it was finally reduced to an “advice” alert level by the ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA).
The ESA said the fire was still uncontrolled, but there was no immediate danger to the community.
It had spent more than 12 hours as a “watch and act” alert on Friday.
The ESA said 10 ACT Fire and Rescue and Rural Fire Service crews remained on site.
Amazing flying skills as aircraft tankers drop water on the Pierces Creek fire front.
This footage makes it look like the fire is closer than it actually is – about 3kms.
The antenna in the foreground is #DSS36. @ACT_ESA
Thanks @nascom1 for the video.📡✈️ pic.twitter.com/4zwXjRSC5U
— CanberraDSN (@CanberraDSN) November 2, 2018
In the afternoon, firefighters started going door-to-door along the urban fringe from Kambah to Gordon in an “education activity” designed to remind residents what the alert levels meant and what they should be doing to prepare, including enacting whatever bushfire plans they had in place.
The ESA said staff attended 400 to 700 homes, which remained on standby, with no official evacuations ordered and no threat to property.
Galilee School in Kambah was evacuated in the morning, but all other ACT schools operated as normal.
More than 20 ACT fire crews were involved in the fight, along with six water-bombing aircraft.
New South Wales firefighters were also put on standby to help out but were eventually sent home late in the afternoon.
The thunderstorm that hit the city in the evening eased the fireground conditions, but only a little.
The fireground received only 1.4 millimetres of rain, but the temperature dropped and humidity in the area increased.
Authorities warned the fire was heading in a south-easterly direction in steep terrain, with a thunderstorm whipping up powerful, damaging winds in the evening.
A number of trees across Canberra were knocked over and some parts of the city lost power.
There was also a haze over the city, but the ESA said that was dust from inland New South Wales, rather than smoke from the fire.
Rural properties in greatest danger
ACT emergency services commissioner Dominic Lane said despite the fact suburban Canberra was not immediately under threat from the fire, rural properties could be at risk as the fire was difficult to predict.
“On days like today where you have very high fire danger conditions, where you get this spotting activity, homes in the bushfire-prone areas of the ACT will come under threat,” he said.
“The principal threat at this point in time is to the rural area around Pierces Creek and Tidbinbilla — that’s why we have firefighting resources there to protect those homes and the surrounding outbuildings on those farms.
“But in Canberra, because of the nature of our city and the closeness of the bush to many parts of Canberra, homes in the bushfire-prone area will come under threat if the fire gets closer.”
Commissioner Lane said those conditions and the fire’s behaviour was concerning, as the strong gusts meant spotting could occur “well ahead” of the main fire.
“The fire behaviour was quite unprecedented,” he said.
“The fire is still out of control and whilst firefighters worked very hard overnight in that steep, inaccessible terrain … the size of the fire is growing.”
Commissioner Lane said he expected the fire to grow to several hundred hectares in size, regardless of firefighting efforts.
The ESA said there were bulldozers and other heavy machinery on site to help build containment lines, but they can only set them up some distance from the fire to allow crews to work safely.
Firefighters said the fire started from a burnt-out car and took hold in the neighbouring pine forest.
About 150 Year Three and Four students from Miles Franklin Primary School, who had been at the Birrigai Outdoor School at Tidbinbilla, were evacuated safely this morning.
Student Kaleb Swan said the group struggled with smoke as they left the area.
“We had to leave early, miss one activity, so we could get away from the bushfires because the wind was heading towards Birragai, same as the bushfire,” he said.
“And we were also choking a bit on the smoke and we wanted to go home.”
Canberrans can read the rules and expectations of total fire bans on the Emergency Services Agency ACT website.
Bringing back memories of 2003
Anything approaching a fire emergency in Canberra inevitably triggers memories of the 2003 bushfires that killed four people and destroyed nearly 500 homes.
Laurence Buchanan lost his Duffy home 15 years ago and said there was no warning at the time, nor had he received much warning about the latest bushfire.
“It brings back a lot of memories of 2003,” he said.
“When you lose everything, just the threat of anything like this puts goosebumps up you.
“I’m expecting people to be here warning us and there’s no warning.”
Local horse handlers Lucy and Isabelle evacuated their animals as an early precaution.
“We were kids when the bad fires happened so we really know the consequences,” Lucy said.
“We always have a bushfire season plan and ours is early evacuation.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Exhibition Park in the northern suburbs offered free stabling for those who needed it.