Hunter firefighters take advantage of cooler conditions before heat returns

PREPARED: Greta Rural Fire Brigade members Josh Fraser, Trevor Kedwell and Lachlan Martin. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
PREPARED: Greta Rural Fire Brigade members Josh Fraser, Trevor Kedwell and Lachlan Martin. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Hunter firefighters have been making the most of the Christmas reprieve from the blistering weather to battle blazes and prepare for the next onslaught of heatwave conditions.

"We've had a few really successful days in preparatory work," said Terry Burns, public liaison officer at the NSW Rural Fire Service's Lower Hunter fire control centre.

Mr Burns said four major fires in the greater Hunter area had been the focus of crews over the Christmas period. For the past couple of days, there had been about 150 personnel in the field.

As well as RFS volunteers, personnel from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Forestry, and Fire and Rescue NSW had been working to contain the blazes.

As well as the battles on the ground, aircraft had been used to bomb the fires, including along ridgelines and areas that were hard to access.

Terry Burns said Mother Nature had been helping the firefighters.

"We've had four or five days of a strong easterly influence, which has brought some moisture and calmer weather," he said.

The sheer scale of the four large blazes in the Hunter area were enormous, Terry Burns explained.

The Little L fire, near Wollombi and Milbrodale, had so far consumed about 149,000 hectares. The Kerrys Ridge blaze, near Martindale, Doyles Creek and Jerrys Plains, had burnt about 118,000 hectares.

The Crumps Complex fire, near Watagan Creek, had consumed about 6700 hectares, and Owendale, near Pokolbin and Broke, had burnt about 5200 hectares.

The blazes covered long distances as well. One fire edge alone, extending from west of Broke to the Howes Valley, was about 30 kilometres, Terry Burns said.

"If you walked along the edge of the fire area, it would be a very long distance," he said. "We're talking thousands of kilometres of fire edge."

Among the Hunter crews on the fire grounds are members of the Greta brigade. Deputy captain Trevor Kedwell said a three-person crew and light tanker had been at the Little L blaze.

Recently, brigade crews had been working in shifts around the clock, backburning. Each shift could undertake about 10 kilometres of backburning, Mr Kedwell explained, as firefighters raced against the clock.

"They're just trying to get it done before the weather turns," Mr Kedwell said.

The weather is forecast to turn this weekend, with temperatures in the valley expected to push into the early 40s and a return of north-westerly winds.

Those deteriorating conditions, Trevor Kedwell said, would help indicate "how much good work has been done this week".

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This story Fire fight over Christmas first appeared on Newcastle Herald.