Bushfires: worse weather to come

Written By komlim puldel on Minggu, 04 Januari 2015 | 20.01

The Adelaide Hills is bracing for a third day of devastation as strong winds are expected to fan a bushfire.

A burnt pine plantation just outside Gumeracha. Picture: Tom Huntley Source: News Corp Australia

The sun sets through the smoke haze and burnt trees along Kersbrook Rd near One Tree Hill. Picture: Mark Brake Source: News Corp Australia

Two men survived when a falling pine tree affected bythe bushfire crushed their ute at Cudlee Creek. Picture: Phil Williams Source: Supplied

Two elderly people feared missing in the bushfire-affected Adelaide Hills region have been located.

FIREFIGHTERS are in a race against time to contain Adelaide's bushfire crisis, feared to have destroyed dozens of homes, ahead of dangerous weather that could reignite the weekend's firestorm.

The catastrophic fire conditions experienced on Saturday — described by fire authorities as the worst conditions since the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires — eased on Sunday, but the blaze continues to burn in all directions.

Overnight, ground crews were working on an active fire front to the north of Frank Barker Rd at Humbug Scrub.

The fire was also burning in a southerly direction between Gorge Rd and Torrens Valley Rd in the Cudlee Creek and Kenton Valley areas.

Another active fire was burning between Little Para Rd, Deloraine Rd and Watts Gully Rd.

The entire fire perimeter of the fire has pockets of free burning fuel.

LATEST CFS FIRE WARNINGS

Temperatures for Monday and Tuesday will be hotter than earlier forecast.

Premier Jay Weatherill said it was vital for authorities to contain the fire's active edges in the cooler weather. Mr Weatherill said 12 homes were confirmed destroyed and there were fears for 20 others.

"This is obviously enormously distressing to the people concerned," he said. "We'll take every effort to try to reach those people before they become aware and witness the destruction of their homes."

ADVERTISER PHOTOGRAPHERS GALLERY

Major developments in the fire, which started at Sampson Flat just after noon on Friday, included:

THE CFS downgraded its emergency warning to a watch-and-act message, but said the blaze continued to burn in all directions.

TWELVE homes were destroyed, with fears for 20 others. The CFS said it expected the loss ratio to be less than 1 per cent.

ABOUT 13,000 hectares of scrub had been destroyed.

AN elderly Kersbrook man and a Cudlee Creek woman unaccounted for on Sunday were later found safe and well, seeking refuge from the fire.

TWENTY-THREE people, mostly firefighters, were injured. One person was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital in a stable condition after a falling tree struck a ute at Cudlee Creek.

MORE than 1000 properties in the area are without power.

FOUR Victorian strike teams who spent the weekend battling fires in the northwestern Victorian town of Moyston and at Hastings on the Mornington Peninsula travelled to SA to assist.

A 45-YEAR-OLD Fairview Park man was arrested at North East Road, Tea Tree Gully, and charged with failing to comply with a direction of an officer. He was bailed to appear in the Holden Hill Magistrates Court next month.

DAMAGE assessment teams moved into the fire zone and the State Government has offered emergency relief grants of up to $700 for families affected by the fire as well as help with short-term accommodation.

Greens leader Christine Milne used the fire to argue that the Federal Government should do more to prepare for climate change.

"Every year we are going to face these extreme weather events, which are going to cost lives and infrastructure, and enough is enough," she said.

"The Abbott Government has to stop climate denial and help to get the country prepared to adapt to the more extreme conditions."

CFS chief officer Greg Nettleton said fears remained that the fire may flare up in coming days, and hot conditions forecast for Wednesday posed the most concern.

"The issue that would concern me is if we get ongoing forecasts that say there's continuing rise in the wind speeds. We're not seeing that at the moment," he said.

"Any fire on a hot day with a bit of wind will cause it to spread quite quickly."

Hundreds of anxious residents waiting for permission to return to their homes were sheltering at the Golden Grove evacuation centre, staying with friends and family, and congregating at control points on roads closed because of the declaration of a state of emergency. The centre was also flooded with donations of food, water and bedding.

The number of stock, native animals and pets lost in the fire remains unknown. Many were lost on Saturday when the Tea Tree Gully Boarding Kennel and Cattery was destroyed by the fire. There were numerous reports of koalas fleeing the fire, trying to find water and shelter.

Throughout the crisis, the community has embraced social media, sharing vital information, donating goods and even opening up their homes to displaced families and animals.

Among the dozens of Facebook groups and pages is Ali Mitchell's Sampson Flat Fire Updates South Australia Facebook page. She started it on Saturday at 6.30am, thinking she would be able to give a "couple of hundred" people up-to-date information on the fire. Yesterday, the page had reached 36,000 likes.

Police Commissioner Gary Burns said there was no further news on the investigation into what started the fire.

The tenant of a Sampson Flat property where the fire started has denied that it started at an incinerator on the property. He told the Sunday Mail that it started behind a shed, and that it spread because of poorly maintained vegetation on the Shillabeer Rd property.

"We're not going to go to the court unless we've got all the evidence available," Mr Burns said.

"We're still looking at the incinerator side of things as a cause of the fire, but that's one option to it and the investigation continues."  He confirmed that authorities were not investigating any other potential causes.

Duncan Basheer Hannon managing partner Peter Humphries, who led a class action including the families of nine people who died in the 2005 Port Lincoln fires, has told The Advertiser a similar legal bid may be possible in the wake of this weekend's destruction.

Mr Humphries said anyone found to have caused a fire through negligence could be held liable and their insurance company hit for up to $20 million in damages payable to the victims.

Mr Burns said most residents were cooperating with police instructions, as more than 20 roads remained closed.

"In general, they have been very well accepting of the advice the police are giving them because they were well aware we're not doing it just for the sake of it, we're doing it for their protection. They waited a while to see whether the road would open up and left.''

Mr Weatherill praised the "exemplary" preparation of firefighters.

"All of the different agencies, whether it be the Department of Environment, the SA Water, forestry, the professional firefighters and the CFS and also the MFS, together with our vast volunteer network have come together and discharged their functions really in an extraordinarily effective and efficient fashion,'' he said.

READER PHOTOS OF THE FIRE

IMPORTANT INFORMATION

RELIEF CENTRES

Golden Grove Recreation Centre, The Golden Way, Golden Grove

Willaston Football Club, Kelly Rd, Willaston

RECOVERY HOTLINE

The SA Bushfire Recovery hotline — 1800 302 787 — will be open from 8.30am on Sunday. The hotline is for people who have lost their home, suffered trauma or other loss — or for others wanting to provide financial donations to support affected communities.

If you are affected by the fires, call this number for information about emergency grants. Grants of up to $700 are available for essential items such as food and clothing. Grants provide for up to $280 per adult, and up to $140 per child, to a maximum of $700 per family.

For more information, click here.

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