Canberra Airport closed after bushfires approach suburban streets

Louise Cheer
News Editor

Canberra Airport was shut down on Thursday as bushfires burned nearby in the national capital.

Flights arriving and departing at the airport were halted this afternoon, ACT Emergency Service Agency confirmed at 12.41pm (AEST).

A bushfire south of Canberra Airport was at "emergency" level as of 12.32pm.

The agency warned residents in Beard, Oaks Estate and West Queanbeyan including the Crestwood area to seek shelter immediately as the bushfire approaches.

“It is now too late to leave. If you are not in the area, do not return,” it said on its website.

People in the streets north of Uriarra Road were told to leave immediately for David Campese Oval.

The fire has since been downgraded from an emergency warning to watch and act level and Canberra Airport was reopened for some flights.

While a majority of flights remained cancelled, limited Qantas services were running, Canberra Airport tweeted just before 5pm. Virgin and Singapore Airlines have cancelled flights for the rest of the day.

The fire threatening the airport is seen burning close to office buildings on Brindabella Circuit. Source: Twitter/@KazKemp1111

The blaze started on Wednesday but strong winds and high temperatures have seen conditions in Canberra deteriorate.

The Kallaroo Road and Redwood Forest fires in the northern suburb of Piallago merged to create the Beard fire, spanning 424 hectares on Thursday afternoon.

People in Beard, Harman, Oaks Estate, Crestwood, Pialligo and Brindabella Business Park are being told to follow warnings and information for the Fire.

Earlier, nearby residents were told to get their bushfire plans ready as authorities warned conditions could get worse. Employees working at nearby offices on Brindabella Circuit have posted numerous images of the blaze on social media.

Firefighters were also responding to burning trees in the southern Canberra suburb of Monash.

ACT emergency services have issued a total fire ban.

A large fire near Adaminaby, south of the ACT, was at "emergency" level while the Clyde Mountain fire on the NSW south coast has been upgraded to "watch and act".

There are also several out-of-control bushfires burning in NSW.

A fire burns near offices on Brindabella Circuit, sending smoke billowing into the air. Source: Twitter/@yellekau

Bushfires across NSW threatening again

Although fire grounds across the state received rainfall in the past week, the NSW Rural Fire Service has warned hot temperatures and winds on Thursday have prompted an increase in fire activity.

Temperatures are expected to surpass 40 degrees across much of the state, including parts of the south coast, Hunter, Mid North Coast and Sydney.

Winds could reach 55km/h, with gusts close to 100km/h.

Seven NSW fire regions stretching from the Queensland border to the Victoria border are under total fire bans, including greater Sydney. All seven regions have been deemed at "severe" bushfire danger.

Air quality in Sydney on Thursday is also forecast to be poor.

A search is underway for a water tanker which is feared to have crashed while fighting fires in southern NSW.

The NSW Rural Fire Service says local ground crews believe the plane may have gone down in the Snowy Monaro region.

"A number of helicopters are in the area carrying out a search," the RFS said in a statement on Thursday afternoon.

The RFS said it had lost contact with the aircraft. It is unknown how many people were onboard.

Helicopters fly over the bushfire encroaching on Canberra Airport. Source: Twitter/@KazKemp1111

As of 3pm, there were 84 bush or grass fires across NSW, with nearly 40 yet to be contained, the RFS said.

"Today will be a return to the bad old days we've seen over the course of the last few months. Our appeal, of course, is for people to ensure they remain vigilant," NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliott told reporters.

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said conditions on the ground had improved over the past week due to rainfall, but not all fire-affected communities had enjoyed a drenching.

Mr Fitzsimmons said fires on Sydney's perimeter - including the large Gospers Mountain and Green Wattle Creek fires - had the potential to deteriorate, while the NSW south coast would be closely monitored.

"In that widespread rainfall there's been different levels of rain, different amounts of rain which have had different effects," Mr Fitzsimmons said.

"There's every potential for flare-ups and new ignitions."

The Bureau of Meteorology on Wednesday issued a severe weather warning for damaging winds in parts of NSW's south and west.

Firefighters hose down trees as they battle against bushfires around the town of Nowra during the deadly New Year's Eve fires. Source: Getty

The BoM warned Thursday's damaging winds may extend to the southern tablelands and parts of the central tablelands, the Illawarra and south coast.

The warning comes after severe thunderstorms hit Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong on Monday, leaving homes and businesses without power.

"We've got to celebrate (rainfall) with some caution. In some areas they've had remarkable results with rain - dams are filling up, it's making a difference with farmers and broader vegetation. But in other areas they're not getting that same volume, that same widespread impact," Mr Fitzsimmons said.

"We can't afford to be complacent, we've got to be careful."

Dry lightning sparks 44 new fires in Victoria

Rain has continued to lash Victoria, presenting some challenges for emergency services in the state where a dozen bushfires are burning.

But Victorian premier Daniel Andrews says he'd rather they be dealing with challenges such as land slides than a hot northerly wind which could whip up ongoing blazes.

Dry lightning sparked 44 new fires in the state on Wednesday amid hot and windy weather, but most were quickly dealt with by firefighters.

There were still 12 fires burning in Victoria on Thursday, the worst of which are in East Gippsland and the northeast.

Most are burning at the advice level, but one out-of-control blaze at Buldah in East Gippsland is subject to a 'watch and act' alert, with aircraft set to battle the flames as soon as conditions permit. 

"A change in weather conditions has made this fire more active," Emergency Management Victoria warned about 8:30am.

A horse is seen in front of a burnt-out property on the outskirts of Cobargo. Source: AAP/James Gourley

A cool change that swept across the state on Wednesday brought widespread rain averaging between 25mm to 30mm across Melbourne overnight.

Conditions haven't been as wet in bushfire-affected regions, with scarcely any rain east of Bairnsdale, which received less than 5mm.

The State Emergency Service received more than 500 calls for help in the 24 hours to Thursday morning, about 360 of which were for fallen trees and only nine of which were for flooding.

Mr Andrews said storms from recent days, including rains which have hit bushfire-affected areas, are providing challenges for firefighters, including land slippage and slides.

"It can be very dangerous, but it's much better than a hot northerly wind," he told Nine's Today on Thursday.

A severe weather warning from the Bureau of Meteorology is in place for strong winds in eastern elevated areas on Thursday, with further gusts to develop in parts of the state's south.

But the rainfall will give way to clear skies on Friday and temperatures expected to stay in the low 20s until Monday.

Victoria's bushfires have so far burnt more than 1.5 million hectares, mainly in the state's East Gippsland and northeast regions.

Ahead of planned travels during the long weekend, Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp urged Victorians to remain vigilant.

- with AAP

More to come.

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