Sydney bushfire: ‘ferocious’ blaze threatens homes as RFS confirms damage

Strong winds push flames towards suburban streets as firefighting and reconnaissance aircraft join operation

A “ferocious” bushfire that led to evacuations in parts of Sydney’s southwest and burnt through 2,500 hectares has affected properties, according to the Rural Fire Service.

On Sunday afternoon an RFS spokesman confirmed that firefighters on the ground had reported some property damage in the western parts of Menai and Barden Ridge.

Strong winds had pushed the flames north and east towards suburban streets on Sunday afternoon as 15 firefighting and reconnaissance aircraft joined the operation.

The RFS was unable to confirm the extent of the damage or the number of properties affected.

Spokesman Greg Allan said assessment crews were not yet able to gain access and see what kind of damage or the number of properties involved.

“We have had reports of impact on properties in west Menai and Barden Ridge but our crews at the moment are solely focused on fighting the fire,” he said.

The bushfire had already burned through the Holsworthy military range in Sydney’s southwest on Sunday, and homes abutting a nearby forest were believed to be at risk as high winds increased the risk from burning embers.

There had been no reported injuries or homes confirmed lost as yet.

The Holsworthy blaze was downgraded to watch and act alert at 5.30pm with the RFS stating “a bushfire is travelling in a northeasterly direction towards the Georges river near Alfords Point and Menai”.

The RFS commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, said earlier on Sunday afternoon that although there had still been no property damage or serious injury from the blaze, the “volatile, dynamic, and dangerous” fire was posing a serious challenge for the 500 firefighters on the ground.

“We are seeing the fire behave very aggressively,” Fitzsimmons said. “Whilst the damage has been extremely limited, and [there has been] nothing too serious in terms of injury, we’ve got many hours still today to go [and] with the amount of fire-front right up in and around properties we hope that it stays that way.

“But we just need to be mindful that we could see a deterioration in impact and in damage this afternoon given the ferocity of these fires.”

The RFS issued a new emergency warning for residents near the fire on Sunday afternoon. Residents were told that there had been increased fire activity with strong winds and embers sparking new fires and that it was too late to leave the area.

“Voyager Point, Pleasure Point and Sandy Point are experiencing ember attack. Residents in these areas should shelter in place. It is too late to leave,” the warning, released just after midday, said.

As the fire approached homes on Sunday afternoon, aircraft began assisting firefighters on the ground to extinguish spotfires started by embers. Two community kiosks were set up at the Sandy Point Boat ramp and Menai to assist residents affected by the blaze.

The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, gave a press briefing on Sunday in which he thanked the firefighters.

“The fact that this huge blaze has been fought in very high temperatures and winds, unseasonable conditions, and has been done so in a way that has seen, to date, no injuries and no serious damage to property has been a great achievement [but] it is going to be a very, very tough afternoon,” he said.

“Clearly with the wind increasing in strength the situation is worsening but there are outstanding efforts to control this fire being undertaken.”

The bushfire, which had burned more than 2,500 hectares in Sydney’s southwest and may have been deliberately lit, had been downgraded to a “watch-and-act” alert earlier on Sunday morning but Fitzsimmons had warned “the risk remained very real”.

The fire resulted in hundreds of people being evacuated from their homes on Saturday evening with flames almost reaching properties at Holsworthy and Wattle Grove and spot fires later threatening Sutherland and Menai.

On Sunday morning, the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said it was “miracle” that no lives or properties were lost when the bushfire raged through southwest Sydney overnight.

“Residents in the area of Sandy Point and Alfords Point should continue to monitor the conditions as they could change quickly,” the RFS said in an alert at 6am on Sunday. “Residents in Illawong, Bangor and Picnic Point are experiencing ember attack and should continue to monitor for any new spot fires in the affected areas.

“Firefighters are in these areas and are ready to undertake property protection if required.”

Heathcote Road remained closed between Macarthur Drive and New Illawarra Road.

The RFS at 7am said the easing conditions had allowed firefighters to begin back burning along Heathcote Drive.

The threat to properties had reduced but “winds will strengthen across the day”, the service warned.

On Sunday Fitzsimmons asked local residents to remain vigilant given winds on the fire ground were expected to reach up to 60km/h later on Sunday.

On Sunday morning he stressed that the fight was not over, saying “there’s still a long way to go this afternoon”.

“Given the weather conditions, and the amount of fire on the fire ground, there is every likelihood that situation could change this afternoon and we could elevate the alert level,” he told reporters.

Ausgrid reported that heat from the bushfire was affecting TransGrid’s high-voltage lines, which feed into its network. It said voltage dips were occurring across the network and customers could have “short interruptions to power supply”.

There was no immediate concern for the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor but authorities were prepared if the facility is threatened, the RFS commissioner said.

Police believe the fire may have been lit on purpose and were appealing for witnesses to contact them.

“We believe it might have been a deliberately lit fire,” Inspector Mitch Newtown said on Saturday night.

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