Firefighters are deploying “high-risk” backburning strategies in the NSW Blue Mountains as they fight to save lives and homes.
More than 200 homes have already been lost in the fires that have raged west of Sydney since Thursday, and 59 fires were still burning on Monday morning.
The great fear is that a “mega-fire” may form in worsening conditions on Wednesday.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says firefighters are taking “considered” but risky moves to strengthen containment lines around the massive State Mine fire that flanks the mountains’ northwest side.
Firefighters have successfully conducted backburning along more than 20 kilometres of Bells Line of Road.
But the move risked accelerating the feared joining up of the State Mine fire with a blaze at Mount Victoria, which authorities say is likely to happen in coming days.
Fitzsimmons says the plan is “paying off” so far.
“If it comes off, and works, it’s a wonderful firefighting effort,” he told reporters on Monday morning.
“But there is every likelihood investing in a strategy like that that it will breach, that it will fail – and then you’ve got a fire that will cross over everything you’ve just tried to implement.”
The commissioner also moved to allay fears of mass evacuations across the mountains after warning on Sunday that populated areas like Katoomba and Leura could be affected.
“We are not planning an exodus of the Blue Mountains but what I would say is, if you don’t need to be in the Blue Mountains, don’t go there,” he said.
Residents in the tiny township of Bell were on Monday morning again urged to evacuate ahead of temperatures in the mid-30s, low humidity and problematic winds around 25km/h.
A state of emergency declared on Sunday gives authorities the okay to force evacuations and even destroy buildings that pose a danger, but those powers haven’t yet been used.
Premier Barry O’Farrell said no one wanted to force people to abandon their homes, but it could be necessary to ensure everyone’s safety.
“We know there is understandable heartache about leaving property perhaps vulnerable. But if it’s a choice between property or lives we should always go for lives,” he told the Nine Network.
NSW Emergency Service Minister Mike Gallacher will meet with Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan on Monday ahead of the military possibly joining the firefighting effort.
Check back here through the day for latest updates.
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