Fire update meeting in Kalang

ArcGIS map on Friday morning showing fires to our west and south merging
ArcGIS map on Friday morning showing fires to our west and south merging

As bushfires to our west and south merge into one enormous blaze, RFS Mid North Coast is gearing up to prevent the firefront crossing into Bellingen Shire.

The Guyra Road fire at Ebor is joining with Carrai East and Kian Road, which could create a major threat for us if weather conditions worsen.

"We're hoping to catch it back in this country here," said RFS Mid North Coast community liaison officer John Allen at the Kalang Hall meeting last night, pointing to the predictive modelling map that he and Superintendent Sean McArdle brought along.

Once it gets beyond the Horseshoe, that's where we're under threat.

John Allen - RFS Mid North Coast

"Once it gets beyond the Horseshoe, that's where we're under threat."

The danger is that if the bushfire passes beyond the road on that high ridge, gusty westerly winds could send it down into the Kalang and Thora valleys.

"Our modelling shows that when it arrives on the Horseshoe, there's like a pinch point where the fire will funnel in, following the heavy vegetation, and then spread right into the two valleys," Supt McArdle said.

People with experience of previous fires petering out in the wet sclerophyll forest should not expect that to happen this time, they warned.

"Cool temperate rainforest is now burning. It's the dryness of the soil and the vegetation that's the factor," Mr Allen said.

"What we need to alleviate this situation is 160-200mm of rainfall. And that's not predicted for the next few months."

Asked if the firefighting agencies intended to backburn from the Horseshoe, Mr Allen said "only if required".

"We've got other control lines further back up the ridge system," he said. "And we've got contractors working on the fire trails as of today."

Someone in the audience commented that temporary structures at the 'Biodiversity Embassy' protest camp had been flattened.

"There was a dozer and a float that needed to get through to go up the Horseshoe," Mr Allen said. "It wasn't to do with logging of the catchment. It was for preparation of fire trails and they had to get their truck through."

The modelling map presented at the meeting shows trigger points that will prompt emergency warnings, and the basic message is that people should use this weekend to prepare for worse weather conditions in the middle of the week.

A key decision in the Bush Fire Survival Plan is whether to relocate to a safer place or to stay and defend the property.

For people in Kalang, with only one road in and out, the recommendation on days of 'severe', 'extreme' or 'catastrophic' fire danger is to leave early.

The RFS Mid North Coast team has prepared customised emergency warnings to be used if the fire reaches certain trigger points.

The first trigger point is on the Horseshoe Rd, which will prompt a 'leave now' message.

The second trigger points, located about halfway between the Horseshoe and Kalang/Darkwood, will prompt the 'too late to leave' message.

Supt McArdle noted that in Taree, the fire travelled 20km in an hour and a half, with a strong wind behind it.

"If you get the message to leave at 10am, have your stuff ready and go. Because in a matter of hours it could change to be no longer safe to go," he said.

He warned that the map pictured in Fires Near Me lags behind the actual conditions, so it is not a reliable way to check how close the fire is.

Also, in windy conditions embers can spot kilometres ahead of the firefront, and this is the way most houses catch fire.

Asked about the threat to the township of Bellingen, Mr Allen said currently they were focusing on Kalang and Thora, the communities most at risk.

As built-up areas, Bellingen and Urunga are regarded as safer places for relocation, unless the RFS advises otherwise.

"When we send out the emergency warnings, we will say where it's safe to go to," Supt McArdle said. "For you [in Kalang] the first point will be Bellingen.

"If we believe Bellingen is going to come under threat, we will then advise people whether to go up to Dorrigo or down into the coastal areas."

A similar meeting is being held at Thora Community Hall at 6pm tonight, Friday November 22.

If it becomes necessary, other meetings will be scheduled for Bellingen or other places in the shire.

Did you know?

Fire danger ratings indicate how a fire will behave if it occurs and how difficult it will be to control or suppress. They're not an indication of how likely it is that there will be a fire on a particular day. Watch this video for a clear explanation: