Leave the Mountains: says RFS chief


Blue Mountains police are investigating the Cliff Drive fire at Katoomba and seeking any witnesses. The fire started just after 4.30pm on Tuesday, around Honeymoon Lookout. Please contact either Katoomba Police Station on 4782 8199 or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

UPDATE: 9.53am Wednesday

Firefighters were able to quickly contain the Cliff Drive at Katoomba on Tuesday afternoon (see photos in gallery). Firefighters contained the fire quickly and worked steadily on mopping up.

UPDATE: 11.50am Tuesday

Supt Jones said "the weather at the moment is fairly extreme".

"It's not overly warm, it's still coolish, but the humidity is 11-12 per cent so it's very dry, but the winds are high, it's the winds that are the concern."

Supt Jones said the full incident management team were ready - Fire and Rescue as well as National Parks bushfire fighting teams were ready at RFS headquarters - site of the emergency operations centre in Katoomba. "We're all together," he said.

Meanwhile some shops in Springwood including New Age Markets (The Hippy Shop) and Blue Mountains Optical had chosen to close for the day, just as extra manpower - Fire and Rescue NSW crews from Rhodes fire station - arrived at Springwood fire station.

MONDAY: Rural Fire Service Blue Mountains chief David Jones has urged Mountains residents to consider leaving their homes before late this afternoon [Monday], to avoid the predicted catastrophic fire conditions tomorrow [Tuesday].

Superintendent Jones, district manager Rural Fire Service Blue Mountains, said "I really think leaving is the best option, we don't want to lose lives."

"I encourage people to go, I think it's the best. My family are going, even though my house at Medlow Bath is well prepared."

The temperature is expected to reach 35 degrees, coupled with winds potentially gusting up to 40 and 50km/hr and a relatively low humidity (which removes ambient moisture) of 15 per cent and no rain predicted in the immediate future, he said.

"We have significant fuel on the ground and our topographical challenges ... that's where we struggle."

Rather than relying on going to a local evacuation centre, which may not be safe if conditions changed, he urged residents to be directed by police and emergency services personnel. The fire danger indices were "a little bit higher" for tomorrow than Winmalee faced in the 2013 bushfire which destroyed 200 homes.

In the Victorian Black Saturday 2009 fires, some 20 per cent of people who died, died in or near their cars, he said.* Supt Jones stressed he did not want people to leave late.

But Supt Jones said 2,500 RFS volunteers were ready for tomorrow, as well as their sister emergency services, including NSW Fire and Rescue, thanks to careful planning through the incident management team.

"I've been working with my counterpart at Fire and Rescue ... RFS has an initial response and then a long-term plan."

A state wide total fire ban has been declared for today and tomorrow.

He asked residents who were leaving to have a plan, "pack a bag" including any medications they needed and be prepared that they may not be able to get back into the Mountains tomorrow night. He also said not to rely on the trains as they may need to be stopped in a fire emergency.

"We've been planning, training, resourcing ... we have great people, they walk on water sometimes, we are as ready as we can be".

Schools closed for safety reasons.

Schools closed for safety reasons.

Supt Jones said investigations were still underway into the cause of a fire near bushland off Park Road, Woodford, last Friday. That fire destroyed 44 hectares and 38 crews were needed to get it under control and build containment lines into the weekend. It would continue to be patrolled all week.

In updated advice (3.53pm Monday) Inspector Ben Shepherd from the RFS Public Information Unit said the main concern was that residents "in fire prone areas, along ridges or isolated communities" were in their homes between the danger period of 2pm and 5pm tomorrow.

Inspector Shepherd advised those residents in the Lower Mountains to go to shopping centres and those in the Upper Mountains to go to the shops in Leura or Katoomba in the middle of town. He said a wind change was predicted between 5 and 9pm.

"We want them to move into built up areas, go to shopping centres, not be in fire prone areas for the worst part of the day and know where their families are, where their households are."

Mayor Mark Greenhill said the community should prepare for the worst, look out for their neighbour, but he was hoping beyond hope "for a boring day tomorrow".

"To our emergency services - words are not enough. You constantly earn the love and respects of this community."

"My message to the community is this: stay alert and stick together. That's how we get through these things.

"Follow your bushfire survival plan. Listen to the advice we are given by emergency services."

For updates on fires use the app firesnearme or go to https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/fire-information/major-fire-updates. There is also information on where to evacuate on the bushfire information line 1300 NSW RFS.

Meanwhile, by 2.30pm on Monday, the Department of Education had announced that all public schools would be closed in the Blue Mountains on Tuesday. All independent schools in the Blue Mountains will also be closed. View the updated list of school closures at: https://education.nsw.gov.au/public-schools/school-safety. TAFE campuses in Katoomba and Wentworth Falls also shut. Campus reopenings are on their website tafensw.edu.au.

National parks and trails are currently shut. National Parks and Wildlife Service director of park operations Blue Mountains, David Crust said on Tuesday at 9am: "We've got everything closed down for obvious reasons, we cleared people out [of parks] yesterday [on Monday] and closed gates".

An official Parks statement said: "Fire can move extremely fast ... with new ignitions possible, so every precaution to protect people is necessary. Total closure means no access at all and includes tracks, trails, campgrounds and picnic areas."

Parks will only reopen when considered safe. Council campgrounds at Old Ford Reserve and Blackheath Glen in Megalong Valley, Mt York and Cathedral of Ferns Mt Wilson are also closed.