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Bush set alight

Monday, 7th January, 2013

By Craig Brealey 

Thunder storms on Sunday night set the bush alight from the SA border north of Broken Hill all the way to Cobar in the east.

Yesterday the Rural Fire Service was dealing with 16 fires in grass and scrub ranging over a distance of about 500 kilometres.

Most of them had been brought under control by the morning but high winds and scorching heat rekindled them at five places in the remote bush.

They were Lake Wallace, about 200 kilometres north of Broken Hill near the SA border; Murkartie Gate, seven kilometres over the border and about 100km west of Tibooburra; Sanpah, 160km north of the city; Granter Marrapina, 132km north-east of the city and; Marrapina/Koonawarra, 120km north-east .

“We had a massive storm on Sunday afternoon and into the night and there are fires all the way from South Australia to Cobar,” said Chris Favelle, the manager of the Far West Rural Fire Service which has its headquarters in Cobar.

Early yesterday afternoon the fire at Lake Wallace had burnt out about 500 hectares of grass-covered sand dunes; the one at Murkartie Gate 2500ha; and at Sanpah 3600ha, according to the RFS.

They were eventually quelled but by the late afternoon fires were still burning at Granter Marrapina and Marrapina/Koonawarra where 100ha and 500ha had been lost respectively.

All of the country was “very remote”, Mr Favelle said, and the fires were not posing a danger to homesteads. 

“There is no property under threat at this stage,” he said.

The five fires had been contained but jumped the fire breaks when hot winds sprang up: “Wind and high temperatures; not a firefighter’s most preferred weather conditions,” said Mr Favelle.

The RFS typically fights such fires by grading a road - called a containment line - around the perimeter and then backburning around the edges with drip torches. 

“We don’t fight these fires with water trucks.”

If the fire jumps the containment lines, they just keep grading more.

The fire breaks also gave the crews “something to drive on and to work off,” Mr Favelle.

“It works well when the weather is with you, but when the wind’s blowing....”

“But the good thing about grass fires is there is not a lot of debris.”

Fighting fires in timbered country was a much harder job, he said.

“Once you’ve got the timber alight it will burn for days.”

Most of the fires - which were burning in the Unincorporated Area and Central Darling district - were in sand dune country, and that is not the type of place you would expect a bushfire to start, given the paucity of bushes.

But Mr Favelle said that those normally dry, rolling red dunes were now covered in tall, dry grass which was the result of several good seasons in a row since the drought broke.

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