Southern parts of the nation’s capital are at risk as a combination of extreme heat, wind and a dry landscape fuels the fire burning in Namadgi National Park in the ACT.

February 01, 2020 07:50:10
The Orroral Valley bushfire in the Namadgi National Park has now burned about 10 per cent of the ACT, but so far the fire front has been kept away from Canberra and the territory’s rural communities.
Key points:

  • The Orroral Valley fire is currently burning at watch and act warning level
  • There is no immediate threat to Canberra suburbs but residents in Tharwa, Banks, Gordon and Conder should be ready to act
  • Conditions are expected to worsen dramatically throughout the day

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said earlier this week the blaze posed the greatest risk to Canberra since the deadly 2003 bushfires.
And today is predicted to be the “worst day” for fire danger.
“The combination of extreme heat, wind and a dry landscape will place suburbs in Canberra’s south at risk,” Mr Barr said yesterday.
The ACT Government said it had taken every precaution to avoid a repeat of the bushfires that devastated the capital 17 years ago.
Military personnel have joined ACT Emergency Services Agency (ESA) staff to doorknock vulnerable residents, extra crews have been flown in from Queensland, and firefighters even managed to do some backburning this week.
Mr Barr declared a state of emergency yesterday, giving the Government powers to direct residents and livestock, seize control of property, and direct people to give information or produce documents.
ESA Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said “everything [the Government] could possibly do in the ACT had been done”.
“So on our worst fire day, which is what we may be facing, the thing we can do now is warn and act,” she said.
Fire spread predictions maps have sketched out a worst-case scenario that would see the Orroral Valley fire grow five times in size as it burns south-east.
If that happens, the New South Wales townships of Michelago and Burra, communities of about 550 and 800 people respectively, will be directly in its path.
Horror of 2003 fires in residents’ minds
When fires flared in the Namadgi National Park 17 years ago, the eventual destruction it wreaked was unexpected.
Within 24 hours, the bushfire had taken hold and containing it became impossible.
About 500 homes were destroyed across Canberra’s south-western suburbs and in rural communities.
Four people died.
This time, residents have been on alert for weeks, preparing their homes for what they fear will be a repeat of the 2003 events.
Mr Barr was keenly aware of this fear when he declared a state of emergency.
“I understand the anxiety that this announcement will cause, especially for those who lived through the 2003 bushfires,” he said yesterday.
Many Canberrans are anxious because, as in 2003, the surrounding land is extremely dry from years of drought, and the weather is forecast to be hot and windy.
They are exhausted not just from the weeks of preparation, but also from the burden of those 17-year-old memories.
“It’s just nerve-racking, just the waiting to see if it will happen or it won’t happen,” one Banks resident said.
Many have their cars ready and bags packed, to evacuate if necessary.
Lives are on hold.
In the rural communities south of Canberra, some people have already left while others have chosen to stay and defend their properties.
Among them is Kim Moeller, a resident of Little Burra, who has already lost one home this bushfire season at Rosedale on the South Coast.
“My plan is to stay and fight the fires, as long as it’s not catastrophic we think we’re well prepared to be able to take on any fires,” he said.
“I’m quite keen to defend and save this home.”
Contact Jake Evans
stories from Australian Capital Territory