A BUSHFIRE burned within metres of homes and forced the closure of Newcastle Airport, as it tore through bushland in Williamtown fanned by strong westerly winds on Saturday.
Nearly 70 firefighters spent most of the afternoon battling desperately to save rural properties along Cabbage Tree Road, Masonite Road and Barrie Close, until a southerly change brought relief, pushing the fire front north into dense scrub.
They were assisted by a very large air tanker called ‘Nancy Bird’ and several water-bombing aircraft. A witness said the fire was no match for the aircraft, which were able to “hammer it into submission”.
As it happened: Live updates stream from the fire ground
According to the Rural Fire Service, there were no reports of any damage to property as of 5pm on Saturday.
“It went though about 50 miles an hour, I reckon,” Cabbage Tree Road resident John Hill said. “It just took off. It was unbelievable.”
The bushfire forced the closure of Newcastle Airport and the cancellation of all flights, although the RFS stressed that was due to plumes of smoke in the area rather than any direct fire risk.
Heading into the evening, the greatest threat was to residents of south-eastern Raymond Terrace and Campvale, with a strong southerly change sweeping across the fire ground.
However the alert level was downgraded to watch and act, with cooling temperatures and light rain giving crews the upper hand.
The blaze, which started at Tomago several days ago, had been under control on Saturday morning.
However firefighters were caught off guard as the flames picked up just after midday, and the blaze raced towards homes.
Cabbage Tree Road residents Rhianna and Cain Gorfine stood alongside fire crews as flames licked within 50 metres of their back boundary, while burning trees fell around them.
A neighbour rushed their three children to safety.
"When it started moving down the side of our property, they got a [fire] truck in,” Ms Gorfine said.
“It got really windy and that was the hairiest time. The bush right next to the paddock went up.
"We're just very fortunate there aren't a lot of other fires going on and that resources could be put to the Hunter.”
She described an eerie calm descending over the fire ground as the winds dropped and the flames died down.
“It’s very surreal,” she said at the time.
It’s been the latest knock in a tremendous run of bad luck for residents of Cabbage Tree Road and Barrie Close, who were last forced to defend their homes in 2013 from what was then described as the “worst bushfire in a decade”.
In 2015, Defence announced the roads were within a plume of toxic firefighting contamination that had leached from the Williamtown RAAF base, rendering the properties worthless.
Last year, a Newcastle Herald investigation uncovered at least 50 cases of cancer among people who had lived or spent significant amounts of time on part of the road in 15 years.
The residents are also waging a campaign against a large sand mine earmarked to go in directly behind their properties.
Ms Gorfine said she was verbally told by fire crews on Saturday that the trucks were being filled with town water, rather than potentially contaminated groundwater from the area.