Weather Firefighter injured as dozens of wind-driven infernos rage in NSW and Qld

Firefighter injured as dozens of wind-driven infernos rage in NSW and Qld

Smoke from the Sarabah bushfires in the Gold Coast hinterland on Thursday. Photo: ABC
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Properties have reportedly been destroyed and a volunteer firefighter is injured as several bushfires burn out of control in NSW.

Firefighters are said to be facing a long battle after the Rural Fire Service on Friday night issued emergency warnings for fires at Tenterfield, Drake and Legume in northern NSW and Bees Nest near Armidale.

RFS spokesman Anthony Bradstreet said they had received reports of property losses in Tenterfield, and a volunteer firefighter had been airlifted to hospital with burns to his hands and throat.

There have been no other reports of death or injury.

He said 760 firefighters had been deployed as of Friday night in response to blazes across the state – and their battle could continue for weeks.

The NSW Rural Fire Service told Tenterfield residents to “seek shelter” and “protect yourself from the heat of the fire” after a blaze broke out in a residential street about 2.30pm on Friday.

Driven by the wind

Conditions were very challenging, with firefighters contending with dry conditions from prolonged drought and strong winds through the fire grounds.

“What we’re worried about, moving into the evening, is a strong south-westerly change which is going to be moving through the Tenterfield-Armidale areas over the next few hours,” Mr Bradstreet told AAP on Friday night.

That strong southerly change has the potential to push fires more towards the north-east which we’re watching very closely.”

For residents near the Tenterfield and Drake bushfires, it was too late to leave on Friday night.

Another bushfire devastated 6300 hectares of forest north-east of Armidale, moving towards Guy Fawkes River. In Drake, emergency services issued a watch-and-act warning for another fire.

Severe fire danger warnings stretched to the NSW north coast, New England and northern slopes regions on Friday afternoon.

Fire and Rescue NSW Acting Superintendent Rob Jansen said there was a “lot of fuel on ground”.

“Any fires, particularly with a strong wind behind them, will run really quickly and people can get caught out.

“Be vigilant, be careful in what activities you undertake particularly in these fire ban weather,” he said.

For residents near the Tenterfield and Drake bushfires, it was too late to leave on Friday night.

The bushfire at Bees Nest, meanwhile, had burned through more than 16,000 hectares.

It came as a total fire ban was declared across Sydney and much of NSW’s north due to warm, dry and windy conditions.

RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters: “Records will indicate we have never seen in NSW, fire danger ratings in this part of the state to the level we’re experiencing here today”.

Southern Queensland also faced severe weather conditions as temperatures soared into the mid-30s. Strong winds and low humidity meant a dangerous 24 hours ahead, with drought-stricken communities on edge as dams dry out.

The Queensland Fire and Emergency Services reported “bushfires burning up and down the state” on Friday with hazard reduction burns causing smoke haze in residential areas.

There are bushfires burning up and down the state today, so it’s important you understand the different types of…

Posted by Queensland Fire and Emergency Services – QFES on Thursday, September 5, 2019

Queensland at risk

Meanwhile, more than 50 fires are burning in Queensland, with fire danger conditions severe to extreme in the south.

The worst is the Scenic Rim fire between Sarabah and Canungra, inland from the Gold Coast, where people have been told to leave.

“If you are not in the area, do not return, as conditions are too dangerous,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services says.

QFES acting Commissioner Mike Wassing said the blaze was close to homes and has become difficult to fight.

“The fire is starting to spike and give us a bit of trouble,” Acting Commissioner Wassing said told the ABC.

Scenic Rim mayor Greg Christensen said authorities were doing all they could as the temperature climbed and winds picked up.

“There’s a wide set of resources on the ground. I would ask people to stay off the roads, there is a lot of smoke around,” Cr Christensen said.

“There are some people who’ve relocated themselves early because they didn’t want to be in the risk zone.”

In the Darling Downs, Southern Downs mayor Tracy Dobbie said her area, west of the Gold Coast, was bone dry.

“It is very hot now, and very windy,” she said.

“Most rural residents don’t have any water in their dams to fight a fire. We are saying to them really reassess your fire plan and be prepared to leave if there is a fire.”

Water laden tankers are in place, and the bellies of fire fighting aircraft are full to respond to any outbreak.

“There is a total fire ban. Please don’t use any equipment outside that could spark a fire,” the mayor urged.

Conditions were expected to worsen on Friday afternoon ahead of a cool change.

It is still possible the fire danger could escalate to a catastrophic rating later in some pockets of southern Queensland.

No let-up to risks

Winds up to 95 km/h were expected in the south-west in areas including Goondiwindi, St George, Hebel, Bollon, Mungindi and Dirranbandi.

Cooler conditions are forecast in coming days but the bureau said the fire danger would remain high until the middle of next week.

“It’s not a total reprieve. It will remain quite windy and dry tomorrow, the only difference being it won’t be hot,” forecaster Harry Clark said.

The Bureau of Meteorology issued an extreme fire danger warning for the NSW North Coast, New England and Northern Slopes on Friday.

There is also a severe fire danger warning for the greater Sydney region, Hunter, Far North Coast, Central Ranges, and North Western regions.

The Bureau of Meteorology said a low pressure system was generating strong, gusty winds in Queensland’s south-west.

The wind, combined with temperatures in the mid-30s and very low humidity, had brought dangerous conditions.

Communities in at-risk areas have been told they’re unlikely to see a drop of rain for at least the next week.

The Southern Downs Regional Council covers parched communities south-west of Brisbane, including Warwick and Stanthorpe, where critical water restrictions are in force.

Residents there are limited to 100 litres per person a day, and water levels in major dams are low. The Leslie dam, near Warwick, is at just 6 per cent.

“We have sufficient water. We don’t have an abundance of water, but we have enough,” Queensland Fire and Emergency Services assistant commissioner John Bolger told the ABC on Friday.

Overnight on Thursday, a house was lost to a fast-moving grassfire near Mareeba, in far north Queensland.

“The house was very close to where the fire started. It moved very quickly and before crews got there the house was lost,” a fire service spokesman said.

“The family is safe.”

-with AAP