A group of swimmers have been left confused and shaken after a grassfire encroached upon a popular Litchfield swimming hole — a fire authorities had no idea was burning.
The group of mostly tourists were swimming at the Upper Cascades waterway on Sunday afternoon when they found themselves surrounded by smoke.
“We saw a bunch of tourists go up [towards the car park] and then come back down about 10 minutes later,” visitor Jacqui Grange said.
“They said they couldn’t get through the track because there was too much fire around.”
“We were all quite calm until one other girl who’s a local started stressing a little bit. Then we all started stressing,” her friend Carolina Mueller added.
With the alternative being to travel downstream through potentially croc-inhabited water, the group made a beeline for the car park through the ash and dense smoke.
“We just kind of sprinted our way through the fires and picked up a few other tourists who were sitting on rocks and freaking out themselves,” Ms Mueller said.
Litchfield National Park is a mobile phone black spot.
The park is an expansive tourism destination filled with freshwater swimming holes that generally close for most of the wet season and savanna woodlands that can be conducive to fires in the dry.
Dry season burn-offs have been taking place throughout the Top End in recent months. (File photo)
The visitors said they were aware prescribed burning might be taking place in the area but were panicked by the fact there were no rangers in sight.
But park rangers said they were unaware of the fire.
“To be honest, we weren’t aware that there was a fire at Cascades on Sunday afternoon,” chief district ranger Julie Heran said.
“We think that the fire must’ve started in an area adjacent to the park boundary and just made its way through to Cascades without the awareness of the staff that were working on the weekend.”
While banks of smoke have blanketed parts of the Top End in recent months, officials also said there were no prescribed burn-offs in the area at the weekend.
This is partly because of poor conditions.
“We have been experiencing some really bad winds and some dry conditions, so the fires have been a little more intense than what we normally would experience at this time of year,” Ms Heran said.
“We do generally keep a pretty good eye on what’s going on in the park, but that occurred late Sunday afternoon.
“I’m assuming the rangers were either busy, caught up with some other visitor management and just didn’t see the fires at that time.”