Monstrous water bombing tankers called to help fight wild Riverina fire

FRIDAY

Noon: The fire that ripped through more than 5500 hectares near West Wyalong has finally been brought under control.

The blaze, which killed 600 sheep, destroyed $500,000 worth of crops and claimed numerous fences and a shearing shed, was deemed “contained” at 11pm on Thursday night.

Picture: NSW RFS

Picture: NSW RFS

It is believed the fire was sparked by machinery at a North Yalgogrin property.

The RFS has warned this weekend’s hot and blustery conditions meant further flare-ups were possible in the Riverina.

THURSDAY

5.30pm:Fire a ‘terrible accident’ 

Wednesday’s nightmare bushfire near West Wyalong was far from over for property owner Ken Hardie on Thursday afternoon.

The blaze began on his property, caused by a freak accident authorities suggest could have happened to any one of the farmers harvesting in the area.

"We are feeling absolutely terrible - the fire has hit a lot of properties down the road, our good neighbours,” Mr Hardie said.

5pm: The past day and night has been a nightmare for the Yalgogrin community but while they may have lacked all of the facilities to fight the fire they made up for it with spirit.

Billy Kelly fought the fire in his ute, a water container on the back and a mate with a hose standing in the tray.

They followed the firetrucks as they battled the blaze.

"Jaime was on the back and I was driving next to the fire and he was putting them out - we just had a pump and a hose we hooked up," he said.

"There were trees falling across the road and when I was on the back of the ute we were going along and I could feel the burning embers hitting my skin.

"I had to hide behind the water tank because the embers were burning me as the fire crossed the road. 

"The flames were so high, trees were just dropping down onto the road.

"There were whirliwinds of fire and the flames were twirling around, you didn't know where they were going to go - that was pretty frightening."

Mr Kelly and his friend had a close call fighting the fire.

"We drove down a track and then the fire crossed the road behind us, we had to drive back through the flames and smoke," he said.

The fire, which jumped both a highway and a creek, was an unpredictable beast according to witnesses who said high winds had meant they were never certain of which direction it would take next.

Georgie Rowe said as night had fallen burning trees silhouetted against the familiar landscape had been an eerie sight.

"One of the scariest things was hearing people freak out over the two-way," she said.

"Hearing them so frightened was scary."

3pm: As the Yalgogrin community battled the inferno ripping through their farms there was more than one person who thought they might die.

Volunteer Georgia Rowe battled the flames until 1.30am Thursday morning.

"It was scary, it was so scary we would drive straight up to the fire and then the wind would catch it and blow the flames right up the side of the truck,” Miss Rowe said.

"You could feel the heat of the fire on your face and there was so much smoke you couldn't see anything or breathe.

"Once the flames got into the trees there were six foot flames out of the top of the trees.

Miss Rowe's family home barely escaped the blaze after it jumped the Mid-Western Highway.

"It was a bit hairy there for a while," she said.

"We heard it had jumped the highway and was headed towards our home, but we couldn't just drop what we were doing and try to save our home."

Sister Tasmin Rowe said it had been a terrible moment.

"Mum was at home and we were scared for her," she said.

1pm: Locals on the ground are hopeful the worst of the fire is behind them but there is still a long way to go before they are in the clear.

Yalgogrin man and volunteer firefighter Keith Rowe had been fighting the fire since yesterday as he and his neighbours desperately tried to save their homes.

“We still have trees burning and there are a whole heap of hotspots we will have to watch in the coming days, it could be weeks before this is behind us,” he said.

“We have so much burning timber that if we have another flare up we will be in trouble again for sure.”

With trees continuing to burn throughout the farms ravaged by the fire Mr Rowe said it would be a difficult task to ensure none of the areas got out of control again.

“Everyone is going to have to keep an eye out,” he said.

“At night at least we can see the fires and keep on putting them out."

Noon: The NSW RFS is using aircraft to assist firefighters on the ground to help contain the fire.

“Conditions eased significantly overnight and fire activity across the fire ground is quiet,” the RFS said.

North Yalgogrin property owners and volunteer firefighters Susan and Ken Harding have endured a nightmare ordeal after their land was scorched by fire.

It is understood the blaze started after two rocks created a spark during harvesting activities. 

The incident occurred well before the cease harvest order was issued by the RFS. 

Ms Harding told The Daily Advertiser the community’s assistance has been mind blowing.

“My poor husband hasn’t even slept from all the stress and the smoke inhalation and everything else,” she said. 

“There were so many fire breaks and the wind was travelling so fast – within five minutes it was out of control.

“The help from nearby residents has been incredible with all the local ladies and gentlemen helping fight the fire.”

11am: The Mid-Western Highway has reopened between West Wyalong and Goolgowi, according to Live Traffic NSW. Stop/slow conditions are in place.

7.30am: The Mid-Western Highway remains closed despite easing conditions surrounding the fire near North Yalgogrin and West Wyalong.

Almost 7000 hectares have burned since the grass fire took off after making its way into a crop ready for harvest on Wednesday afternoon.

The Rural Fire Service send in immediate reinforcements in the form of massive water bombers Thor and Southern Belle to combat the fast-moving fire, which was whipped along by strong winds in the heat of the afternoon.

The fire has been downgraded to an advice level overnight, however it still continues to burn south of Yalgogrin and to the west of West Wyalong.

“Today crews will continue to black out and mop up the fire in order to limit its spread,” the RFS said.

Just under 7000ha has burned in the North Yalgogrin fire. Picture: NSW RFS

Just under 7000ha has burned in the North Yalgogrin fire. Picture: NSW RFS

“Due to dry and warm conditions today there is the risk the fire may still flare and run again.

“Aircraft will be used today to assist firefighters on the ground and they will be in the air this morning.”

The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting a warm day with light winds in the Riverina after Tuesday’s blustery conditions. 

  • Forecast temperatures, December 1
  • West Wyalong 33
  • Griffith 33
  • Hay 33
  • Wagga 32
  • Deniliquin 32
  • Albury 30

Fire danger ratings have also eased, with eastern, southern and northern Riverina districts rated high.

With the Mid-Western Highway closed between West Wyalong and Goolgowi, motorists are advised to make alternative travel plans. 

Live Traffic NSW suggests using the Newell Highway, Burley Griffin Way and Kidman Way.

WEDNESDAY

9.00PM: The size of the fire has reportedly doubled in the last hour with RFS now reporting over 500 hectares of land has been burnt. 

It is believed a late breeze has allowed the fire to spread at unprecedented speeds, painting a bleak picture for neighbouring areas. 

8.00PM: RFS NSW said the blaze is now burning on both sides of the Mid Western Highway. 

Residents on the northern side of the highway in the areas of Greaves Lane, Rankins Lane, Browns Lane and Leslies Lanes have been warned by fire authorities to be vigilant as the damage continues to spread. 

7:00PM:  The fire is now burning between Jacksons Lane and Pfieffers Lane in an easterly direction towards Pfieffers Lane, south of the Mid Western Highway.

Approximately 260 hectares has now been burnt by the blaze. 

A change in South West wind conditions is also allowing the fire to travel further north.

NSW RFS have released a public alert which reads: “There is a heightened level of threat. Conditions are changing and you need to start taking action now to protect you and your family.”

EARLIER: DESPERATE firefighters were forced to summon the Rural Fire Service’s (RFS) two monstrous water bombing tankers in attempts to quell a wild Riverina fire on Wednesday afternoon.

“Thor” and “Southern Belle” soared through Riverina skies around 4.30pm to drop 44,000 litres of water onto a fierce blaze near West Wyalong.  

More than 250 hectares of land has been scorched in North Yalgogrin by the fire, that has since been deemed out of control by authorities. 

The Mid-Western Highway was also brought to a close after the blaze continued to spread.

RFS upgraded the unruly grass fire to a Watch and Act amid fears for properties north of Tallimba Rd and south of the Mid Western Highway.

The fire worsened after it entered a wheat crop. 

It started just one hour before The Bland Shire was given the directive to immediately cease harvesting due to blistering, windy conditions. 

Rural Fire Services NSW have reportedly brought some sections under control, while others are proving to be more of a struggle. 

Incident controller Tony Place said no homes have yet been brought under threat. 

“Nothing is in immediate danger at this stage but there’s a lot of sections we are having difficulty with so we’ll have to closely monitor in case it escalates,” he said. 

“We’ve got about 30 odd tankers on hand and we’re waiting for the fixed wing bombers so it’s quite severe.”

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