A THICK blanket of smoke lay heavy across the Bega Valley on Saturday after a bushfire at Millingandi destroyed two homes and two sheds late Friday.
Temperatures soared across the region on Friday, with records broken at nearly every South Coast weather station recorded by weatherzone.com.au – including at Bega (44.6C) and Merimbula (44C).
The hot conditions, coupled with strong north-westerly winds, fanned the large bushfire 5km west of Merimbula in the MIllingandi area, which burned out of control, threatening homes and native animal sanctuary Potoroo Palace.
Late in the afternoon the fire crossed the Princes Hwy and started spotting into Bournda Nature Reserve.
At lunchtime Saturday, the fire was “being controlled” and the alert level had been downgraded to “advice” with backburning operations being carried out on Millingandi Rd and surrounding areas.
According to Rural Fire Service Far South Coast community safety officer Marty Webster, residents along Red Gum Rd were starting to return to their homes, but efforts to completely douse the blaze were continuing.
“The fire conditions on the ground were reasonably stable this morning,” Mr Webster said.
“Essential Energy declared the area safe and we are now working on a hazard assessment.”
Mr Webster said it was pleasing to see residents in the area with bushfire survival plans put them into action early, with many residents choosing to leave the area for either Merimbula or Bega.
The RFS set up evacuation centres at Club Sapphire Merimbula and the Bega Showground, where Mr Webster said 10 people turned up, mainly Wolumla residents who had received emergency alert messages as a precaution.
He said others had chosen to stay with friends and family as part of their bushfire plan.
Mr Webster said it may sound repetitive, but Friday’s destructive fire and shocking conditions reinforced the need for everyone to prepare a bushfire survival plan.
“Yesterday’s weather has taken a lot of the moisture out of the ground and fuel, so it remains hazardous and it is still early days in this bushfire season.”
At the peak of the Millingandi fire on Friday, up to 73 firefighters were on the ground, while four water-bombing helicopters and two bulldozers worked to contain the blaze.
Mr Webster said they also had the support of a full emergency operations centre.
The Princes Hwy between Wolumla and Pambula was closed around 3.30pm on Friday and only reopened to traffic at 9am Saturday.
People in the area between Wolumla and Millingandi are being urged to continue to monitor the situation via the RFS website, www.rfs.nsw.gov.au, listening to local radio stations or by calling the NSW RFS Bush Fire Information Line on 1800 679 737.
If your life is at risk, call Triple Zero (000) immediately.