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NSW: Bushfire threat wanes as cool change approaches

By Andrew Drummond
08 Feb 2009 7:34 PM
EDS: Updates with charges against 31-year-old man

SYDNEY, Feb 8 AAP - The bushfire threat for NSW has waned with the chance of unpredictable winds accompanying a forecast cool southerly change the greatest remaining concern for authorities.

While temperatures peaked in the mid-40s in parts of western NSW, including 46 degrees at Ivanhoe, Sunday's forecast scorcher did not reach its expected severity.

Nevertheless, some 53 bushfires across the state burnt more than 6,500 hectares of land, with major blazes on the central coast at Peats Ridge and on the far south coast at Jingera Rock.

Fire crews, hundreds-strong, supported by scores of tankers and aircraft have joined the fight, working to extinguish the blazes, some of which were in highly inaccessible areas.

"The advice to me is that the Peats Ridge Road fire is the most proximate to properties but there's appropriate backburning being put in place for predicted changes in wind direction and at this stage we're in reasonably good position to deal with that change in wind direction," NSW Premier Nathan Rees told reporters on Sunday afternoon from Rural Fire Service (RFS) headquarters in Sydney.

Some 150 residents from the Peats Ridge area have attended RFS community meetings, updating them on forecast conditions and what they can do to help defend their properties.

A cool southerly change is forecast to sweep across the state some time between 9pm and 11pm (AEDT), leading to cooler temperatures for Monday.

"We've got confidence ... that providing the weather continues as forecast, there shouldn't be any significant impact on properties this afternoon but we'll have to see what the weather does," RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters.

"The forecast is indicating wind strengths gusting up to 50 or 60 kilometres (per hour) but ... as that frontal activity comes through later this evening we can expect to see that wind strengthen and indeed the other problem with a frontal event is that wind speed and direction can be erratic before the change settles in."

Mr Rees said February was typically a time of "extreme weather".

"This is exactly the time of year and part of the cycle the experts apply total vigilance and I would never say that we are out of the woods," Mr Rees said.

Investigations into the cause of the fires are ongoing, however Mr Rees acknowledged there had been speculation of arson.

"I make this point: that anyone who lights a fire under these conditions is likely to imperil life ... and we will throw the book at you," Mr Rees said.

A man questioned in relation to the Peats Ridge fire and released without charge, was later re-arrested and charged with intentionally causing a fire and setting fire to another person's property.

He was refused bail to face Gosford Local Court on Monday.