More homes threatened by NSW bushfires as hazardous smoke blankets Sydney

Guardian staff and agencies
Photograph: Don Arnold/Getty Images

More homes are threatened after an out-of-control bushfire burned through to the coast in southern New South Wales as thick smoke from blazes surrounding Sydney continues to blanket the city.

The Currowan bushfire near Batemans Bay on the state’s south coast has already destroyed at least one home.

The fire was downgraded overnight but remained out of control on Wednesday morning and has burned through more than 47,400 hectares.

On Tuesday evening the NSW Rural Fire Service said the blaze was spreading quickly towards coastal areas around Pebbly Beach, Depot Beach and Pretty Beach.

“The fire has reached the coast in some areas,” the RFS said. “Firefighters and aircraft are working to protect homes where possible.”

Residents in the Kioloa, Pretty Beach, Pebbly Beach, Depot Beach and Durras North areas were told to seek shelter as it was too late to leave.

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The Princes Highway between Dolphin Point and Batemans Bay was closed in both directions.

Firefighters working on the Currowan bushfire along the Princes Highway on Monday. Photograph: NSW Rural Fire Service

Some 111 bush and grass fires were burning across NSW on Tuesday evening with more than 54 uncontained.

One property west of the town of Kioloa has been confirmed destroyed by the Currowan fire, but it was too dangerous for authorities to carry out further damage assessments.

“We do have some early indications of property being lost or impacted to the west of the area of Kioloa, largely where the fire crossed the Clyde river there yesterday,” RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told the Seven Network earlier on Tuesday.

“Unfortunately there’s still a lot of very active fire edge on this fire.

“Conditions could certainly change if we see the winds influence fire behaviour on that again.”

Hunter region

An emergency warning for a 200-hectare bushfire at Pelaw Main east of Cessnock in the Hunter region was downgraded to watch and act on Tuesday evening.

Residents living on Avery Lane in the suburb of Stanford Merthyr were earlier told to seek shelter from the fire and it was too late to leave.

A firefighter talks on a radio as an out of control fire burns at Avery’s lane, near Stanford Merthyr, east of Cessnock, on Tuesday. Photograph: Darren Pateman/AAP

“The fire has escalated quite quickly,” an RFS spokesman said at the time.

“It’s moving in an easterly direction towards Avery Lane.”

The greater Hunter region was under severe fire danger warnings on Wednesday, with very high fire danger for much of the coastal and northern regions.

Western Australia

An emergency notice was issued for an out-of-control bushfire in Forrestdale, south-east of Perth in Western Australia on Tuesday evening, threatening lives and homes, before being downgraded overnight.

Residents were urged to leave for a safer place if the way was clear, or prepare to shelter in their homes in a room with two exits and water such as a kitchen or laundry.

The fire was contained and under control by Wednesday morning, but Forrestdale primary school was closed.

Help from Canada

A group of 21 Canadian firefighters were preparing to travel to Australia to help with the fires over the Christmas period for an expected 38-day deployment.

Australian officials submitted an official request to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, based in Winnipeg, on Friday and at the weekend dozens of experienced firefighters from provinces across Canada volunteered to give up Christmas with their families and fly to Australia.

“We are pleased to help the people of Australia as they face these devastating fires, especially since Manitoba has been on the receiving end of help from friends and neighbours when wildfires and other natural disasters hit our province,” the premier of the Canadian province of Manitoba, Brian Pallister, said.


Smoke haze was again forecast for several regions on Wednesday, including metropolitan Sydney, where temperatures were predicted to reach 33C in the west.

A fire at Three Mile, in the Hawkesbury region north-west of Sydney, remained out of control and at a watch and act warning level on Wednesday morning.

A fire near Cranebrook in western Sydney was also downgraded to “advice” level after an emergency alert was issued briefly on Tuesday afternoon.

Sydney was ringed by bushfires on Tuesday with thick smoke settling in the city’s basin, blown from large bushfires in the Blue Mountains, near Warragamba Dam and in the Hawkesbury area.

Air quality was “hazardous” in Sydney’s east and south-west on Tuesday afternoon but “good” in the city’s north-west. Conditions improved slightly on Wednesday morning.

Fitzsimmons said a “temperature inversion” had trapped the smoke in the Sydney basin and the haze was unlikely to lift in the short term.

“All those fires and some a little further afield are all impacting on the smoke inundation around the Sydney basin,” he said.

A man seen wearing a dust mask as smoke haze from bushfires in NSW blankets the CBD in Sydney on Tuesday. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

“There’s a general westerly pattern to a lot of these winds that’s going to continue to bring smoke right across the Sydney basin, and if we get another inversion effect like we saw this morning, some of that will get trapped.”

On Monday NSW police expressed concerns about the number of people deliberately lighting fires amid increased risk.

Lake Illawarra Insp Brian Pedersen said it was distressing to see people ignoring the warnings of emergency services. Police spoke to three 12-year-old boys after two fires were deliberately lit in the Lake Illawarra region at the weekend.

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“We are urging the whole community to be vigilant and report any suspicious behaviour,” Pedersen said.

Two million hectares of NSW land have burned since July in more than 7,000 fires, with authorities calling it the “most challenging bushfire season ever”.

Six people have died and 673 homes have been destroyed.

NSW Health said children, older adults and people with heart and lung conditions were the most susceptible to smoke and air pollution.

“If you have asthma or a lung condition, reduce outdoor activities if smoke levels are high and if shortness of breath or coughing develops, take your reliever medicine or seek medical advice,” it said.

Australian Associated Press contributed to this report