Drake fire to rage for weeks

The Rural Fire Service's Scott Keelan at Tuesday's community update at Tenterfield Memorial Hall.
The Rural Fire Service's Scott Keelan at Tuesday's community update at Tenterfield Memorial Hall.

While the threat to homes in the village of Drake has eased, it will be three-to-four weeks before the Long Gully Road fire is extinguished, the Rural Fire Service's Scott Keelan told those gathered for a community update session at Tenterfield Memorial Hall on Tuesday.

Mr Keelan said 150 firefighters, mostly from crews brought in from Coffs Harbour, Canberra and Sydney, are currently working on containment lines while local firies have a break. The local crews, however, are still dealing with any other outbreaks.

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The Long Gully Fire was first recorded with a smoke sighting on September 5, which was tracked to a quickly-escalating grass fire on private property. Mr Keelan said quick action contacting nearby property owners allowed many residents to move out of harm's way.

The urgency of tackling the Mount Mackenzie fire on the outskirts of Tenterfield township the next afternoon under strong westerly winds was quickly recognised and 80 firefighters were onsite within 20-30 minutes of the outbreak, Mr Keelan said.

While the Drake fire was hard to access, he said in contrast the Mt Mackenzie fire had much easier access allowing it to be contained in 2-3 days.

There are still smoking logs in the fire area and Steinbrook and Barney Downs RFS crews are patrolling regularly.

Getting that fire under control freed up more resources for Drake fire, which now covers 58,000 hectares and is not contained. Six helicopters are dropping water and a large air tanker out of Coffs Harbour is spreading fire retardant on threatened properties.

Strong winds on Saturday sent the fire across the Bruxner Highway in the Red Rock area, and by Monday afternoon it was impacting the northern side of Drake with more firefighting crews arriving Tuesday.

"We're in for the long haul," Mr Keelan said. "It will be a number of weeks yet, maybe three-to-four."

He said deteriorating weather is coming this week, and more firefighters will be deployed and are setting up a nearby base camp to reduce travel time.

The Bruxner Highway closure is now due to falling trees, with a number of fire vehicles already damaged.

The smoke over Tenterfield township on Tuesday was likely carried up from the Bees Nest fire near Dorrigo, which is currently the largest fire at 80,000 hectares, and another fire at Kings Gate which is rapidly growing.

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