Members of Casino Rural Fire Brigade were at the Rappville/Busby's Flat fire defending properties.
Members of Casino Rural Fire Brigade were at the Rappville/Busby's Flat fire defending properties. Casino Rural Fire Brigade

Blaze so bad fireys had 'never experienced' anything like it

UPDATE 6.20pm: AREAS across the Northern Tablelands and New England are likely to experience thick smoke tonight, which is being blown from several large fires across northern NSW.

A surge in winds from the east is pushing smoke inland and it's likely to settle across a wide area overnight.

UPDATE, 5.30pm: POLICE have set up a strike force to investigate the Busbys Flat bushfire, which is now being treated as suspicious.

On Tuesday the blaze impacted upon several rural townships, including Rappville, Coombell, Busby Flat Creek, Main Camp and Myrtle Creek, near Casino.

At least 30 structures have been damaged or destroyed, however the exact number won't be known until NSW RFS Building Impact Assessment teams inspect the area.

Richmond Police District Commander, Superintendent Toby Lindsay said detectives will work tirelessly to determine the cause of this blaze.

>>> FULL STORY: Horrific fire being treated as suspicious

Rural Fire Service Northern Rivers Zone Manager Michael Brett said it could be a few days before it was safe enough to allow residents back into Rappville.

"Now the Long Gully Road Fire and the Busby Flat Fire have joined up we are talking about 80 or 90km of active fire-front."

Supt Brett said on Tuesday there were around 500 firefighters on the ground supported by air crews.

"Today we have about 300 firefighters and some of the seasoned firefighters said they had never seen such intense conditions before," he said.

We are looking at warnings at places between the Bruxner Hwy South it will make the fire run fairly intense."

"We anticipate there will be mass loss of sheds, fences and equipment," he said.

"Under the appalling weather conditions this fire has consumed a considerable amount of country and has caused a considerable amount of damage, fire crews worked tirelessly in appalling conditions and the fire made a significant run.

"Or crew have done tremendous work."

 

UPDATE, 4.40pm: THE Long Gully Rd fire at Drake has been downgraded to Advice level, but is still listed as out of control.

Firefighters are still working to contain the fire.

The Clarence Way remains closed and is expected to remain so for some time.

If you are in the areas of Ewingar, Broadwater Flat, Keybarbin State Forest and the Mount Belmore State Forest continue to monitor the situation.

Continue to patrol your property for embers and extinguish all spot fires that can threaten properties.

 

UPDATE 2.51pm: AN EMERGENCY hotline has been set up to deal with inquiries about the Rappville fire.

NSW POLICE acting assistant commissioner Dean Smith said a Public Inquiry Information Centre had been activated and can be contacted on 1800 227 228.

 

UPDATE 12.12pm: "THERE is still a long way to go" to bring fires burning on the Northern Rivers under control.

Rural Fire Service Northern Zone Manager Superintendent Michael Brett said they were bringing in a lot of resources to help fight the fires and they were currently looking at the fire situation to work out the best way to deploy them.

Aircraft are being used to waterbomb a fire burning at Myrtle Creek to make it safer for firefighters to battle the fire.

Crews were also on the ground in Rappville dealing with spot fires.

Supt Brett said the weather had been better this morning, but the wind was picking up and there was a lot of fire to combat.

Impact assessment teams are in Rappville determining the extent of the damage and details will be released soon.

He asked people to be patient. He said they were aware people were anxious to find out how their properties fared in the fire, but they needed to ensure the area was safe before they allowed people to return.

NSW Police said road closures are still in place - Summerland Way remains closed - and residents are urged to use extreme caution due to fallen power lines, fallen trees and emergency services operations in the area.

Residents are asked not to return to fire affected areas as it is currently unsafe to do so.

People from the area are still unaccounted for, but police are going door-to-door to check on people and to confirm where they may have gone to seek shelter.

Supt Brett said 29 people who sought shelter at Rappville School yesterday were bussed to the evacuation centre at Casino last night.

The Northern Rivers Emergency Operation Centre has established two evacuation centres at:

1. St Mary's Catholic College - Canterbury Street, Casino

2. Woodburn Memorial Hall - Pacific Highway/River Street, Woodburn

Small domestic animals are able to be brought to these centres.

Larger animals can be taken to the Casino Showgrounds, Summerland Way. Camp sites are also available at this location.

Residents who live in the impacted areas should visit the Register. Find.Reunite website (https://register.redcross.org.au) and select 'Northern NSW Bushfires' to register their current location.

Health warnings are also in place due to significant smoke in and around areas affected by fire. If it is safe to do so, remain indoors or seek medical assistance if required. Trauma counselling assistance is available via the Mental Health Access Line (1800 011 511).

 

UPDATE, 9.55am: WITH "favourable" weather conditions today, the NSW Rural Fire Service said the main focus today would be assessing the damage caused by the bushfire emergency yesterday.

Dangerous fire conditions yesterday caused three fires burning across the Northern Rivers to become emergency warnings, with the village of Rappville suffering a direct impact from the Busby Flat Road bushfire.

Northern Rivers Superintendent Michael Brett said firefighters worked extensively into the early hours of this morning to try and protect homes in the Bungawalbyn area south of Casino.

 

"It was atrocious weather conditions yesterday," Supt Brett said.

"We've seen seasoned firefighters advise they've seen fire activity that they have never experienced before."

A significant number of homes have been damaged in the Busbys Flat Rd fire.
A significant number of homes have been damaged in the Busbys Flat Rd fire. NSW RFS

Supt Brett said the main focus for firefighters today would be to assess the damage caused to properties in the fire affected area.

"Our plan of attack today is to conduct significant recon on the fire, identify containment lines and identify losses," he said.

Supt Brett said crews would be going house to house identifying damage and losses, and some residents will be starting to move back into their properties today.

He said while some media outlets were reporting up to 30 homes could have been lost, he said that figure is unconfirmed and they would have a better understanding once crews were on the ground.

"As our teams start to make their way around the grounds, we can expect property and livestock losses could increase," he said.

Supt Brett confirmed there have been losses in Rappville as a result of the fire impacting directly on the village, but said it was still unconfirmed of the full extent of the damage due to access issues in the local area.

He said weather conditions have eased for today, but residents in the affected areas should remain on alert.

"We're going to see temperatures in the low 20s and the winds south easterly gusting up to 25 km/h which is favourable weather conditions," Supt Brett said.

"Of course the wind will put a lot of smoke around which could affect some people."

Supt Brett said the NSW RFS were advising all residents on the northern side of the fire who haven't already been impacted by fire should monitor the weather conditions and listen to NSW RFS advice.

"If they start to see fire or flares, they need to phone Triple 000 and ensure their bushfire survival plan has been enacted," he said.

"They need to make sure they have a strategy in place, that if they don't want to be there today, they need to leave early.

"Don't stay and wait for something to happen."

Supt Brett said around 19 residents were displaced at the evacuation centre in Casino, and said that number could rise as the day went on.

Supt Brett praised the "tremendous" work of volunteer firefighters, and said their efforts had helped to save countless properties.

 

UPDATE, 8.25am: IT IS understood at least 20-25 homes have been damaged or destroyed by bushfire in the Rappville area, with a number of homes on the eastern side of the Summerland Way also affected.

The RFS said on Twitter this morning: "Building Impact Assessment teams will inspect areas impacted by yesterday's bush fires across northern NSW.

"At this stage, there appears to be a significant number of homes and other buildings destroyed.

"We're working to get residents back when safe to do so."

 

Original story: THE Busbys Flat Rd bushfire near Rappville is still listed as out of control this morning, but the Rural Fire Service has downgraded the blaze to a Watch & Act alert level.

The Long Gully Rd fire near Drake is also at a Watch & Act level, but still out of control in "challenging" conditions, while the Tenterfield bushfire has been downgraded to Advice level and is "being controlled".

The ABC has reported more than 20 homes and buildings have been lost in the Busbys Flat fire, which has burnt through more than 13,000 hectares of land.

But RFS Superintendent Michael Brett last night told The Northern Star it was impossible to take stock of the damage at this point.

He confirmed at least eight homes had been destroyed. The Summerland Way is still closed south of Casino.

Supt Brett told ABC North Coast this morning that crews had a "mammoth task" ahead.

"Unfortunately yesterday was one of those horrific days that we don't want to see," he said.

"This morning we'll have an aircraft go up and start doing some recon... we now have a line of fires from Drake to 20km west of Woodburn."

Conditions eased last night, but residents should remain vigilant and follow the advice of firefighters on the ground.

This morning, fire is still burning in the area of Rappville, Wyan, The Island, Myrtle Creek, Wineshanty, and Mount Belmore State Forest.

"A wind change has moved across the fire ground," the RFS explained on its website early this morning.

"The fire continues in a northerly direction towards Coombell, Ellangowan.

"It has also crossed the Summerland Way and is currently impacting Duke Road and Neileys Lagoon Road, West Bungawalbin.

"Weather conditions have eased however, firefighters are continuing work to protect properties in the area .

"There are reports of a number of homes or buildings being destroyed by the fire in the Rappville area.

"Embers blown ahead of the Long Gully Road Fire have started spot fires very close to the south of this fire in the area of Busbys Road, Wyan."

Advice

If you are in the areas of Coombell, Ellangowan, Rappville, Wyan, Wineshanty, The Island, Myrtle Creek, West Bungawalbin, Busby Flat or Mount Belmore State Forest you should remain vigilant and be ready to act should the fire threaten your property.

If you are to the east the Summerland Way in the area of Myall Creek Rd, Duke Road, Neileys Lagoon Road and Bungawalbin Creek, be alert for embers and spot fires which may threaten your property ahead of the main fire front.

Other information

An evacuation centre has been set up at at St Marys Primary School, 120 Centre St, Casino for people who require assistance.

Small domestic animals can be taken to the evacuation centre. Larger animals can be taken to the Casino Showgrounds, Summerland Way.

If your life is at risk, call Triple Zero (000) immediately.

Continue to stay up to date with the bush fire situation by checking www.rfs.nsw.gov.au or by calling the NSW RFS Bush Fire Information Line on 1800 679 737.

For information on road closures, check www.livetraffic.rta.nsw.gov.au. Roads may be closed without warning.


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