Blue Mountains landmark burns for first time since 1955

Visitors to the Three Sisters last week were seeing views not seen for decades as a large hazard reduction burn took place.

Mt Solitary, south of Katoomba, was set ablaze on Tuesday [May 8] as part of a hazard-reduction burn covering 3500 hectares and closing many popular walking trails for the past nine days.

It was a “strategic burn" according to the National Parks and Wildlife Service area manager Vanessa Richardson “to reduce the bushfire risk to the townships of the Upper Mountains, particularly Katoomba, Leura and Wentworth Falls”. 

Tourists to The Three Sisters were looking at smoke rising from a region that had not been burned since 1955, Ben Shepherd, a senior spokesman for the Rural Fire Service, said.

Ms Richardson said the complex burn between Jamison Valley, Kedumba Valley and Narrow Neck plateau had been “iconic”. All access to walking tracks and fire trails in those valleys and on the plateau were closed for the duration of the burn.

“Mount Solitary is the prominent landmark south of the Jamison Valley and smoke from the burn was visible over a wide area,” Ms Richardson said.

The burn had been planned and then cancelled due to poor weather conditions on two separate occasions. She said it was unlikely the area would be part of the hazard reduction program for at least another 15 years.

Trails were closed in the immediate zone surrounding Scenic World  and the Federal Pass including the Dardanelles Pass loop walking track; Den Fenella walking track; Echo Point to Scenic World via Giant Stairway; Federal Pass; Fern Bower walk; Leura Cascades Fern Bower; Mount Solitary walking track; Narrow Neck trail; Round walking track and the Ruined Castle walking track.

Ms Richardson told the Gazette that for safety reasons four tracks were still not open – the Mt Solitary Walking track; Ruined Castle Walking track; Kedumba River Camping area; Kedumba River Fire Trail (after the intersection of the Sublime Point Fire Trail).

A Parks spokeswoman said they asked people to “remain out of the closed parts of the park for their own safety.  Signage will be in place at these locations.” 

Ms Richardson said walkers and runners should remain vigilant in the areas that had been burnt. Specialist tree fellers with chainsaws were being walked through the area this week to remove any burning trees.

Another Parks spokesman said “ignition was conducted on Tuesday May 8 from approximately five kilometres of firetrail, 1.5 kilometres of hand tool line and via aerial incendiaries dropped from helicopters”. 

The spokesman said “aerial ignition made up the bulk of the ignition and concentrated on lighting the summit of Mt Solitary”

“The resulting fire then burned gradually down the slopes on all sides during subsequent days until it reached containment lines or the fire lit by the ground crews on the fire trail or hand tool line.”

Approximately 40 Parks staff and Rural Fire Service volunteers worked daily on the fire coping with often challenging, windy conditions.

Residents can keep up to date with trail closures by calling the Blue Mountains Heritage Centre on (02) 4787 8877 or visiting https://www.nationalparks.nsw.gov.au/visit-a-park/parks/blue-mountains-national-park.

More hazard reductions are expected for this weekend in the mid and Lower Mountains at the Old Lawson Tip [56 hectares] and between Bee Farm and Burns Rd extending south to Glenbrook Creek [271 hectares]. They were still to be confirmed as we went to press.