Rain forecast for Thursday raises hopes in prolonged fire fight across Tasmania
HOPES for an end to Tasmania’s fire crisis lie in the lap of the weather gods, with the possibility of rain across the state on Thursday.
Firefighters who have toiled through weeks of firefighting on dozens of bushfires burning around the state have the chance of some relief with two relatively benign weather days ahead.
A total of 19 fires continue to burn across the state, having consumed 194,000ha to date.
On Monday night, there was one emergency warning in place for Brandum on the Central Plateau, 14 watch and act messages current, and 19 advice warnings relating to eight fires.
The main areas of concern for the Tasmania Fire Service were at Brittons Link, Britons Swamp; the Great Pine Tier fire on the Central Plateau; the Gell River fire in the state’s southwest; and the Riveaux Road fire, which has menaced communities in the state’s south.
Bureau of Meteorology acting state manager Simon McCulloch said rain was forecast for Thursday but it was unclear how much rain would fall in the worst-hit areas.
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“Into Thursday the interaction of a trough over Tasmania with a trough over the mainland will result in perhaps the most promising rainfall we’ve seen for a while.
“There’s still a bit of uncertainty about how much rain we’ll see on Thursday but the most likely areas for significant rain are the north and northeast — around 10 to 30 millimetres of rain and about five to 25 millimetres of rain about the Central West and Southeast.
More than 750 personnel remain deployed as part of the firefighting effort, with 160 from interstate and New Zealand.
Two evacuation centres remain open for people displaced by the fires — at Huonville and Bothwell, with 250 people remaining at the former.
Tasmania Fire Service deputy chief officer Bruce Byatt said while the weather forecast was improving, the situation remained fluid and the weather alone could not be relied on to put the fires out.
“We’re hopeful that we will get good rainfall and that that will give us a real chance to pull up these fires,” he said.
“That’s not our planning though — our planning is to actively get in and attack these … quite aggressively and in that cooler days that we have ahead put in place plans that hopefully extinguish these larger fires.”
Current estimates were that seven houses had been lost in fires so far, although assessments were still being carried out and the figure could change.
The Great Pine Tier Fire broke out on Sunday and quickly advanced 8km to the north of Liawenee across to Reynolds Neck.
“With the weather cooling down, we cannot become complacent,” he said. “The rain we receive later in the week, it may in fact not be sufficient to extinguish these fires.”
Of particular concern, Mr Byatt said, was the reluctance of some residents of Reynolds Neck to leave their properties as the fire advanced.
“It’s disappointing that police and fire doorknocks to request occupants to evacuate weren’t followed in all cases and it’s fortunate that we’re able to report no lives were lost.
“It puts additional stress on our firefighting teams when we have to re-enter those environments to effect firefighting.
“Obviously we’re acutely aware of warning fatigue and we try very hard to get the warnings right so that we don’t escalate them unnecessarily.
“But certainly if it’s reached the point where you’ve got police officers and firefighters doorknocking to tell you to evacuate that’s probably another level again.”
Tasmania Police Commander and southern regional controller Tony Cerritelli asked people to heed warnings to evacuate.
“We’re not doing this as a practice or an exercise — it’s done for a reason,” he said.
“We haven’t lost anyone at the moment. We don’t want to lose anyone. That’s been the number one priority, so can you please heed the warnings.”
Parks and Wildlife Service southern region manager Ashley Rushton said improved conditions meant that several closed areas would reopen on Tuesday.
Parks and Wildlife
These included the Mt Field day visitor areas and waterfall circuits, the Douglas Apsley National Park, and parks in the Tasman and Forestier Peninsula areas.
The Southwest National Park, Hartz Mountains, Hastings Caves and the Walls of Jerusalem remain closed.
“We’ve also had reports of displaced and disoriented wildlife on the roads, so we also ask people to particularly dusk to dawn take extra care.
“Much of the wildlife is moving, it’s on the roads and you can do your little bit by just driving carefully.”