Residents flee for their lives

GEROGERY residents were last night forced to flee for their lives as fire swept across the area.It is believed a fire started at the Walla rubbish tip about 2pm and quickly raged out of control, spreading south-east in the direction of Gerogery and Table Top.The Rural Fire Service (RFS) immediately issued emergency warnings to Woomargama, Mullengandra and Mountain Creek, relocating evacuated residents to the BP service station in Lavington.The new SMS alert system was used for the first time in NSW as the fire approached Gerogery, successfully alerting many residents who could not be reached.More than 30 crews and two water bombers were called with more expected to arrive overnight, coming from as far away as Wagga, Corowa and Berrigan.The flames were finally brought under control about 7.30pm after destroying more than 7000 hectares along Coach Road and in the Benambra Range.Extreme conditions fanned the blaze, firefighters struggling to contain it as wind gusts up to 80kmh pushed embers more than six kilometres into the distance.At 3.50pm, police closed down the Olympic Way between the Hume Highway turn-off and Culcairn, also shutting down the XPT service.Updates throughout the day told of the devastation as the fire moved toward Gerogery and consumed four homes, cars, sheds, livestock and crops.RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said it was increasingly dangerous."The fire is moving fast and is extremely aggressive, pushed by strong, hot winds and at this stage we are still fighting to gain control," he said."At this stage the fire is heading for the Benambra Range but we are hopeful no more homes will be lost."The RFS advised residents in the path of the fire overnight that conditions were likely to make the blaze uncontrollable and few places would be safe."Only homes that are specially designed, constructed or modified to withstand a bushfire and are properly prepared and actively defended may provide safety during the fire," the alerts said.As The Daily Advertiser went to press last night, firefighters were blacking out and strengthening containment lines with crews to remain on site during the night.