Fire crews will spend days monitoring more than 300 hectares of charred bush at Maddens Plains after an out-of-control blaze was contained at the weekend.
Initial investigations suggest the bushfire, which burnt 312 hectares between the M1 Princes Motorway and Princes Highway north of Bulli Tops, was sparked by power lines arcing during hot and windy weather on Friday afternoon.
The fire was at its most treacherous when a southerly change moved through the region on Friday evening, however no homes or property were ever under threat.
A NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) spokeswoman said the gusty winds typically associated with southerly changes were known to “cause quite erratic fire behaviour”.
“As the southerly came through on Friday afternoon we did see that fire behaviour occurring on the Maddens Plains fire,” she said.
“Particularly given the vegetation that it was burning in, it’s that real coastal heath vegetation and that’s quite prone to flare-ups with gusts of wind.”
At the fire’s peak, about 120 NSW RFS personnel were on the ground, assisted by the massive DC 10 air tanker “Southern Belle” and a large Hercules C130 tanker.
The orange Erickson Air Crane and other water bombing helicopters were also used.
Emergency services were first called to a fire burning east of the M1, just after 4.30pm on Friday. The blaze forced the closure of the motorway and the Princes Highway.
The spokeswoman said the fire didn’t start directly beside the motorway, but did move back towards it in the windy conditions.
“Early indications suggest perhaps power lines were involved ... but that will be investigated over the coming days to finalise that [the cause],” she said.
Crews conducted backburning throughout Friday night and into Saturday, using the Princes Highway and a number of trails in the area as a fire break, the spokeswoman said.
Temperatures in the low 20s and minimal wind on Saturday helped their cause – the fire was listed as contained just before noon.
FIRE DROPS OFF ESCARPMENT
Residents in Wollongong’s northern suburbs have the swift actions of a water bombing aircraft to thank for halting an out-of-control fire as it spread down the Illawarra escarpment on Friday.
Nestled below, residents in picturesque Coledale were probably unaware just how close the fire, which eventually razed 312 hectares of bush above them, came.
The wail of sirens and the roar of helicopters that cut through the evening air was a sign something wasn’t right. So, too, the thick smoke that billowed across the suburb.
The fire began between the M1 Princes Motorway and Princes Highway at Maddens Plains, moving east, before a southerly change shifted its course northwards.
NSW Rural Fire Service crews had been using the Princes Highway as a fire break but, on its southern flank, the blaze jumped the road in very-high fire danger conditions and headed straight for the edge.
Enter the orange Erickson Air Crane – one of the service’s most well-known water bombers.
It was the very aircraft that had earlier created a stir as it sucked water out of the ocean off the northern suburbs.
Helicopters were also seen filling up along the coast.
An RFS spokeswoman confirmed the bushfire “dropped off” the escarpment west of Buttenshaw Drive and Morrison Avenue, Coledale.
“It burnt a small patch down the escarpment,” the spokeswoman said. “It wasn’t moving very ferociously because of the escarpment, based on the terrain it was sort of protected a little bit there.
“With a little bit of water bombing, it was able to be contained fairly quickly.”
Chantel Carr filmed the moment the Air Crane doused a section of the fire, flames could be seen licking the edge as it approached.
“Exciting evening under the northern Illawarra escarpment as #MaddensPlains fire reaches the edge,” she wrote on the Twitter video post.
The Air Crane has a dropping capacity of up to 9000 litres and complements a suite of water bombing aircraft on standby for what’s been described as a difficult fire season to come.
“Despite the imposing firefighting capacity of these aircraft and the commitment of our firefighters, people should not be complacent when it comes to bushfire,” NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
VISION SHOWS INTENSITY OF FIRE
Flames more than twice the height of their trucks were what fire crews faced at Maddens Plains on Friday.
While most people saw the smoke from a distance, the intensity of the fire must be seen to be believed.
The NSW Rural Fire Service has provided the Mercury amazing pictures from inside the fire zone. Video posted to social media shows flames leaping skywards and embers being blown across roads. Meanwhile, RFS maps have revealed the extent of damage caused atop the Illawarra escarpment.
The mapping, available on the RFS website and its Fires Near Me app, was updated throughout the firefighting effort and is expected to be finalised in coming days. Satellite imagery shows the 312 hectares burnt during the fire – a section of bush between the M1 Motorway and Princes Highway.
The images also show an area, just west of Coledale, where the fire jumped the highway and reached the edge of the escarpment.