A West Wollongong woman has recounted how she feared for her life when her car broke down in the middle of a hazard reduction burn gone wrong at Heathcote.
Kim Saunders said she and her partner Glenn Koek were "none the wiser" when they headed to Sydney via the Princes Highway for a birthday party on Saturday afternoon.
By the time they got to Waterfall there were signs alerting them to a "red burn", while traffic slowed down to a crawl with smoke and flames surrounding them.
"You could see the flames quite high on the left and then the car broke down on the inside lane," Ms Saunders told the Mercury.
"We started to go into panic mode to get the car started again.
"There were still little spot fires in the medium strip, but the most concerning thing for me was the fire on the right side with flames much higher than on the west."
The 47-year-old executive assistant said she was traumatised by the event and could barely speak a sentence to anyone for days, after they had to be rescued by emergency services.
"Yesterday I went to tell my two bosses and I couldn't get two words out, and I had a mini-breakdown," she said.
"I'm OK today (Tuesday), but Saturday afternoon I just couldn't stop crying."
Ms Saunders said she wanted to share her story so authorities act to stop it happening again, "because it could have been so much worse".
The bushfire at Kangaroo Ridge was believed to have been sparked when a hazard reduction burn being undertaken by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), to the west of the highway at Abaroo, broke containment lines.
Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan said it needed 90 firefighters with the assistance of six aircraft (including the RFS 737 Air Tanker Marie Bashir) to get the upper hand, and was finally under control on Tuesday. It has burned through more than 520 hectares.
The Princes Highway between Heathcote and Waterfall was closed to traffic at 3pm, while train services were also suspended. The road reopened around 4:20pm.
Sutherland Shire RFS Inspector Scott Deller said hazard reduction burns were risky and were reviewed when they didn't go to plan by the various agencies involved.
A spokeswoman for NSW NPWS said they would also be undertaking a review to understand if other factors contributed to spot fires, and "any lesson learnt will be applied to future burns".
She said NPWS was "methodical in their planning" for hazard reduction burns and took into account the weather conditions.
However, the light westerly winds predicted for Saturday afternoon "significantly picked up ... and exceeded the forecast" to 28 km/h.
"This burn is the 18th hazard reduction activity undertaken in Sydney by NPWS (with support from the Rural Fire Service and Fire and Rescue NSW) since 1 July 2020 to protect communities in the lead up to summer," the spokeswoman said.
"Priorities for the NPWS Hazard Reduction program in this area are agreed by the Sutherland Bush Fire Management Committee - and this burn was listed as important for the strategic fire advantage zone network for Heathcote and Royal national parks."
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