Firefighters will be ready to protect urban areas of south Canberra today, if the dangerous 24,000-hectare Orroral Valley bushfire jumps containment lines and burns towards the city as the forecast is set to top 41 degrees.
The out-of-control blaze, which is burning south of the capital, was downgraded to a Watch and Act level late on Friday night, with the ACT Emergency Services Agency saying no properties were under immediate threat.
But conditions are expected to deteriorate again today, with the territory facing its worst bushfire threat since the deadly 2003 fires.
ACT Emergency Services Commissioner Georgeina Whelan said conditions remained “erratic” on Friday night.
“Our urban strike teams will remain in place at south Tuggeranong this evening for rapid response should the need arise,” she said.
“Currently fire conditions and fire behaviour remain volatile.”
A state of emergency was declared across the ACT on Friday as the fire tore through the Namadgi National Park.
“It’s been a tough day. Tomorrow, unfortunately, it doesn’t get much better,” Ms Whelan said.
People in the vicinity of Apollo Road, Boboyan Road, Top Naas Road and Corin Road have been warned to stay vigilant.
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“The ACT is now facing the worst bushfire threat since the devastating fires of 2003,” ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr told reporters on Friday.
“The combination of extreme heat, wind and a dry landscape will place suburbs at Canberra’s south at risk in coming days.”
The bushfire has so far burnt eight per cent of the ACT.
Canberra is forecast to reach a maximum 41C today, with storms and a top of 35C predicted for Sunday.
Evacuations and road closures are possible as the fire edges closer to Canberra.
“What are the 10 things contributing to having a really, really dangerous fire? They are lining up,” Ms Whelan said.
Heat, the fire index rating, the territory’s topography and fuel loads are among the leading causes of concern.
“It has been unpredictable. It remains challenging. It is difficult to access. This fire could create its own weather system,” Ms Whelan said.
“If all of what I have just outlined occurs, there is a chance this fire could break containment lines.”
Smoke is making it difficult for aircraft to fly over certain areas of the fire ground.
Mr Barr said the emergency declaration was made to allow Canberrans, especially those south of Tuggeranong, time to prepare for the weekend.
“The state of emergency is the strongest signal we can send to the ACT community that they must prepare themselves and their families,” he said.
“I understand the anxiety this announcement will cause, especially for those who lived through the 2003 bushfires. This is the first time a state of emergency has been declared since that tragic event.”
The 2003 fires killed four people and destroyed more than 500 homes.
– With wires