Weather Still Feeding Bush Fires in Tathra 69 homes lost
The Rural Fire Service (RFS) has announced 69 houses have been destroyed and 39 damaged in a blaze that is still actively burning in the coastal town of Tathra, near Bega.
Initial damage assessment has found 30 caravans and cabins were also destroyed, but 398 houses were saved or untouched.
It is still not safe to return to the town, but work is being done to make the area safe as quickly as possible, the RFS said.
It is believed four people in the Tathra region have been treated for smoke inhalation and one RFS volunteer has been injured, but there are no reports of missing people.
Residents huddled on the beach to try and escape the flames before being evacuated, with hundreds spending the night in nearby Bermagui and Bega and some sleeping in their cars.
RFS Deputy Fire Commissioner Rob Rogers said the fire jumped rivers on Sunday and was “like a perfect storm” with a combination of strong winds, hot temperatures, low humidity and dry bush.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian flew down from Sydney to the devastated area and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull also travelled to see the damage first-hand.
“Thank heaven there have been no lives lost,” he said.
“That’s a great tribute to the community, the firefighters, all that preparation and resilience.”
When asked whether he would attribute the disaster to climate change, Mr Turnbull said “nature always will and always has” hurled her worst at Australia.
Weather conditions eased overnight and the fire, which spans more than 1,070 hectares, was downgraded from emergency warning to watch-and-act level.
Fire could pick up this afternoon: RFS
The RFS said the fire was being controlled, but by lunchtime a kilometre of active fire was still burning.
“It has calmed down last night bit it will start to pick up in activity again this afternoon, but not to the extent of yesterday,” Deputy Commissioner Rogers said.
The Monday afternoon wind was not expected to be as ferocious as Sunday afternoon’s gusts, however residents were warned that the fire was still active around the town and buildings still standing were not necessarily safe.
The RFS began assessing the extent of the damage this morning, finding mobile phone towers were down and businesses as well as homes had been damaged or lost.
“Building impact assessment teams will move across the fire ground and that will be a process of going street to street, house to house,” the RFS’ Paul Best said.
Fire quickly jumped containment
Deputy Commissioner Rogers said the fire quickly got out of control after it started yesterday afternoon.
“It jumped very quickly to a place called Thomson Road and that was where the first home was impacted and it just really quickly ran then into the main part of the town,” he said.
“It is fair to say with how quickly that fire moved, there wasn’t a lot of time.
“We are not talking hours here, we’re talking minutes that people had warning of this.”
Bega Valley Shire Council Deputy Mayor Liz Seckold was evacuated at the height of the fire and said she did not know whether her house survived the blaze.
Councillor Seckold said her family received no warning of the approaching fire.
“All the power was off, the phones weren’t working, no messages have come up. The first message I got was at four o’clock in the afternoon just as I was leaving,” she said.
‘Everybody is banding together’
Affected residents are being told to remain at an evacuation centre in the nearby town of Bega.
More than 200 residents have sought shelter at the evacuation centre where they are being provided with food, toiletries and clothes.
Local vets have been offering their services to examine the many animals brought to the centre.
Bega Valley Shire council general manager Leanne Barnes said she was proud of how the community had pulled together.
About 150 firefighters worked through the night to contain the blaze.
Several public schools will be shut today as a result of the fire.
Bega High School, Tathra Public School, Tanja Public School, and Bournda Environmental Education School would be closed today.
The RFS said fire investigators have been assigned to the fire to determine how it was started.