NSW bushfires: Defence Force massively exceeded amount of explosives needed for training
NSW bushfires: Defence Force "massively exceeded" amount of explosives needed for training

Firefighters are taking advantage of cooler conditions to gain the upper hand in the battle with bushfires in the Blue Mountains amid warnings it could take weeks for them to be fully extinguished.

The NSW Rural Fire Service are working to strengthen containment lines around three blazes burning uncontained in the Blue Mountains as the bushfire emergency in NSW eases.

As the state's bushfire crisis enters its ninth day, there are 57 bushfires burning across the state, with 23 uncontained, the Rural Fire Service says.

There are three "Watch and Act" alerts current for blazes burning at Springwood, Mt Victoria and Lithgow that have now burnt through almost 60,000 hectares of bush since sparking late last week.

Thousands of firefighters from across Australia have been working to extinguish dangerous fires across NSW. Photo: AAP.

Other fires that previously threatened property in the Lake Macquarie area and Southern Highlands have been downgraded to "Advice".

An RFS spokeswoman says firefighters in the Blue Mountains are taking advantage of cooler temperatures to strengthen containment lines.

"The threat is continuing to ease but we're still asking people to be vigilant because there is such a large amount of fires still active," the spokeswoman told AAP.

"Overnight it has been back burning on most of those fires and patrolling the containment lines, as well as mopping up and blacking out.

"With the cooler weather we want to strengthen those containment lines."

She said there were currently more than 800 firefighters in the field and 72 aircraft deployed.

She said forecast cooler weather for the Blue Mountains would assist firefighters through Friday, but that low humidity was also expected and would add to the fire risk.

Winds were expected to be from the northeast and northwest at up to 30km/hr, she said.

More than 120,000 hectares of bush has so far been burnt across NSW since the crisis began last Thursday.


INFORMATION AND HELP
NSW RFS Bush Fire Information Line - 1800 679 737
NSW Disaster Welfare Assistance Line – 1800 018 444
Locating persons - Police Information line – 1800 227 228
Red Cross - 9229 4249
Salvation Army - 9264 1711
Bush fire survival plan

Defensive explosive claims

It's been claimed that the defence personnel who accidentally started the biggest blaze in the NSW bushfire crisis may have used too much explosive.

Fairfax Media reports a "well-placed military source" says it appears the personnel taking part in the exercise had "massively exceeded" the amount of explosive suitable for the Marrangaroo training range, near Lithgow.

"There is a limit on how big the blast can be and what they were doing was well outside that limit," the source told Fairfax.

"If you're a few grams over, it doesn't matter, but this wasn't just a bit of an overestimate."

Acting Chief of Defence, Air Marshall Mark Binskin, on Thursday offered an apology over the massive State Mine Fire that has destroyed three homes and burned through nearly 50,000 hectares of land.

An investigation by the Rural Fire Service has found explosives training on army land at Marrangaroo on October 16 was responsible for starting the State Mine bushfire.

The Department of Defence says it's aware of the allegations and is conducting its own investigation, and will cooperate fully with NSW authorities.

The devastating State Mine fire has burnt through more than 46,000 hectares, engulfing an area from Lithgow along the northern edge of the Blue Mountains, threatening homes and lives.

Acting Defence Minister George Brandis says he's spoken to the Acting Chief of the Defence Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, about the matter.

"The Australian government and the Australian Defence Force take this issue very seriously and continue to fully cooperate with the New South Wales authorities, including the New South Wales Police, who are investigating the fire," Senator Brandis said in a statement.

GALLERY: BUSHFIRE CRISIS - CAPTURED IN SOCIAL MEDIA. Credit: twitter@702sydney

Mr Fitzsimmons says Defence is a "partner" in firefighting on many occasions, and he understands the fire was a side effect.

"It wasn't deliberate, it was a side effect of a routine activity ... and clearly there was not intention to see fire start up and run as a result of that activity," he told reporters at RFS headquarters on Thursday.

He said defence "worked intimately" with local bushfire committees and authorities on bushfire management across NSW.

This image, taken by 7News cameraman Paul Walker, shows firies keeping a careful eye on the overnight fire at Redhead. Credit twitter@pdnews

He said the decision to go ahead with the training exercise was made on a day of light winds and 23 degree-temperatures. No fire ban was in place.

Defence personnel acted quickly after an explosion started a small fire, but were hampered by the live ordnance around them.

Air Marshall Binskin said the force's in-house investigation into the incident could prompt changes to training procedures around Australia.

Don't expect any respite

Bushfire-weary NSW residents shouldn't expect any respite just yet, with dangerous fire weather expected to linger for at least another three days.

Scores of fires continued to burn around the state late on Thursday as the bushfire crisis entered its second week.

But none burned at emergency level overnight.

A Rural Fire Service spokesman has warned that warm weather and strong winds were expected to plague the state until early next week at the least.

He conceded some residents may become "frustrated" after days of being urged to leave their homes, then being allowed to return.

But he pleaded for locals in bushfire-affected areas to continue to heed official warnings because the danger remained real.

- NSW bushfire map

On scene with crews trying to contain spots across bells line of road. Credit: Rob Rogers @robrfs

Easing weather conditions in New South Wales has brought respite for fire crews, with only the large fires burning in and around the Greater Blue Mountains region remaining at watch and act status.

Mr Fitzsimmons said the fires were not posing any immediate threat to life and property and work continued through the night to try to halt their spread.

Around 60 bushfires are burning around the state with 20 not controlled.

Governor-General Quentin Bryce is expected to tour bushfire-hit parts of the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, on Friday.


Bushfire claims hit $138m and rising

Damage from the NSW bushfires has been estimated at $138 million but the Insurance Council (ICA) of Australia expects it to increase as more inspections are conducted.

On Friday morning 1011 claims had been made, ICA CEO Rob Whelan said.

More than 200 homes have been destroyed and more than 100 were damaged in the large fires but more claims are expected as many areas haven't been declared safe and insurance assessors can't enter.

"While claims lodgements have stabilised over the past couple of days, we expect these to begin climbing again as returning residents assess any property damage," Mr Whelan said.

More than 200 homes have been destroyed and more than 100 were damaged in the NSW fires. Photo: ABC.

Some people have already received money from their insurance company and the ICA urges people to lodge claims as early as possible.

The NRMA says it has received more than 550 claims for building, contents, total loss and motor vehicles among other items.

Because the fires continue and some areas are inaccessible "it is still too early to determine expected total numbers of claims and associated costs," said NRMA insurance spokesman James Rickards said in a statement.

GALLERY: Resident Sean Butler stands in front of his 1958 bus after fighting a fire with five other residents at the historic township Newnes Junction, north of Lithgow. Photo: AAP.

Representatives from the ICA and insurance companies will be at a community meeting at the Winmalee High School on Friday night.

Anyone with questions about their insurance should contact the ICA on 1800 734 621.


Asbestos warning for NSW bushfire zones

Residents returning home after the NSW bushfires have been warned that asbestos has been found in at least 48 of the properties so far inspected.

About 235 homes have been assessed and 175 analysed further for asbestos, with the dangerous material detected in 48 houses, former NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Phil Koperberg told ABC radio on Friday.

"Any house built prior to 1987 is more likely than not to have an asbestos content," he said.

Many areas are yet to be inspected and even though the risk of exposure is "low," Mr Koperberg warned people to stay out of their homes if they're unsure.

"(It's) better to be sure than sorry," he said.

Signs will be placed outside properties where asbestos is found and an information hotline will also be set up.

Mr Koperberg, who is the Blue Mountains emergency recovery co-ordinator, will visit Winmalee with Premier Barry O'Farrell on Friday.

Premier Barry O'Farrell said the asbestos risk was probably minimal.

"However it's better to be safe than sorry," he told reporters at the Winmalee Fire Station on Friday.

A co-ordinated clean up effort would be undertaken quickly, he said, and burnt out properties with asbestos would be sign-posted.

Blue Mountains Emergency Recovery co-ordinator Phil Koperberg said people who had already returned to homes shouldn't panic.

"This is an exponential type of event so the longer and the greater the exposure the higher the risk," he said.

"We're asking people who have been (to burnt out homes) not to go back until we've settled the sites down."

He said of the 235 homes destroyed by fire 67 had so far been found to have asbestos.

There were also safety concerns about arsenic in treated pine and of the potential for remaining structures to collapse.

Mr Koperberg said the asbestos assessment teams hadn't been able to get into the fire zones until Tuesday because conditions had been too dangerous.


Authorities pay tribute to pilot killed fighting fires

The Rural Fire Service Commissioner has paid tribute to the pilot of a plane which crashed in rugged terrain while water-bombing a fire in southern NSW, the ABC reports.

The Rural Fire Service Commissioner has paid tribute to the pilot of a plane which crashed in rugged terrain while water-bombing a fire in southern New South Wales.

David Black, 43, died when his Dromader aircraft crashed while fighting a fire at Wirritin in Budawang National Park, 40 kilometres west of Ulladulla, around 10am on Thursday.

Reports say one of the plane's wings fell off before the aircraft plummeted to the ground.

RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons described the death of the pilot as a "huge tragedy".

"It's a tragedy for the fire-fighting community, of course, but first and foremost we're acutely aware that it's a tragedy for this young man's family," he said.

David Black became the second man killed in the bushfire crisis

"He's a husband with young children and we are all acutely aware that there's a family suffering because their dad hasn't come home.

"We will give all the support we can to the family, and I'm sure they know that the people of New South Wales will be eternally grateful for his work in trying to suppress those fires."

Fires burned near the wreckage, and water-bombing aircraft were forced to fly sorties to keep the fires at bay as teams attempted to reach Mr Black's body.

Late on Thursday afternoon local police superintendent Joe Cassar said high winds had made it too difficult to retrieve the body.

"We are continuing to try to get the helicopters in there but where we find ourselves at the moment is, it is far too dangerous to send any personnel down there to retrieve the pilot," he said.

The crash site west of Ulladulla. Credit: Twitter, @RobertOvadia

Mr Fitzsimmons says Mr Black was making a real difference to his community and the community of New South Wales.

"At the end of the day, we talk about firefighting necessarily so, but there is such a big human dimension," he said.

"There is a family that is not going to welcome home their dad and their husband, and they have got a lifetime of hurt, a lifetime ahead of them to mourn the loss of their father who was doing some extraordinary work."

"It's a tragedy for the fire fighting community but first and foremost it's a tragedy for this man's family.

"He's a husband with young children and we're all acutely aware that there's a family suffering today because their dad didn't come home."

Meanwhile, another pilot whose plane crashed while carrying helicopter spare parts for use in the campaign against the bushfires has also been confirmed dead.

Earlier on Thursday of a single-engine Cessna that went missing on a flight between Moruya in New South Wales to Mangalore in Victoria on Wednesday.

The 60-year-old Victorian pilot, from Euroa, died at the scene.

Councillor Graeme Williams of the Strathbogie Shire Council described him as a selfless servant of the community and a former Country Fire Association volunteer.

"Him and his wife and the family were very, very well respected and they were great volunteers for our community. This is just a sad and tragic loss to a fine person," Cr Williams said.


NSW man arrested for lighting fires

A man has been arrested after he was allegedly seen lighting two fires in central-west NSW.

No charges have been laid against the 33-year-old Forbes man, who is accused of lighting two fires along The Escort Way, about 50 kilometres west of Orange.

A motorist who observed and extinguished a fire alerted police.

They are questioning the man, who was arrested at the scene, about one fire lit at 11.30pm (AEDT) on Thursday and another started at 5.30am on Friday.

A total fire ban has been in place in the area for several days.


Pair charged with misleading locals in fire alert areas

A man and a teenage girl are accused of lying to residents in NSW bushfire zones in an attempt to get them to leave their homes.

Police say they received reports early on Thursday that the pair were misleading residents at Bowen Mountain in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, where bushfires have destroyed hundreds of properties.

Officers arrested a man, 23, and a girl, 15, at the scene.

They had allegedly been telling locals they needed to leave their homes because of fires burning in the area.

The two were questioned and searched, and police allegedly located methylamphetamine on the girl.

The man has been charged with two counts of giving false information about a person or property in danger and was refused bail.

He is due to appear at Penrith Local Court on Friday.

The teenager is charged with possession of a prohibited drug, possession of equipment for administering prohibited drugs and two counts of giving false information about a person or property in danger.

She was granted conditional bail to appear at Children's Court on November 20.


Warning of complacency

The Rural Fire Service is warning residents in fire-affected areas not to become complacent, after the downgrading warnings for major blazes burning across New South Wales.

However, the respite in conditions comes amid a RFS report revealing a training exercise by the Australian Defence Force was responsible for sparking one massive NSW bushfire.

Lower temperatures, a change in wind direction and slightly higher humidity sound like the favourable weather combination fire fighters have been waiting for, but authorities warn a southerly change could carry some risk for fire-threatened communities.

Communities and fire fighters feared the worst on Wednesday with extreme fire conditions placing pressure on major bushfires burning in the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands.

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the risk had been averted.

A southerly change swept through the fire grounds on Wednesday night and all bushfires initially subject to emergency alert warnings were downgraded to watch and act.

Mr Fitzsimmons said the wind change had a potential to present new challenges for Yarramundi Valley and Grose Valley communities as well as for the northern end of the Springwood fire.


Climate and fires link 'hogwash': PM

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has described attempts to link the NSW bushfires with climate change as "complete hogwash", as Australian scientists warn there is a clear connection between global warming and the probability of extreme fire days.

The question over any link between climate change and the devastating fires has run all week, with political figures here and abroad weighing into the debate.

Mr Abbott ramped up the rhetoric on Friday, dismissing suggestions that climate change was behind the bushfire crisis.

"That is complete hogwash," he told News Limited.

"I suppose, you might say, that they are desperate to find anything that they think might pass as ammunition for their cause."

Devasating fires have ripped across NSW since last Thursday. Photo: AAP.

He said it was "bizarre" people were drawing parallels between the two, given there had been worse fires in Australian history, stretching back to the earliest days of European settlement.

Mr Abbott said the longer the period of time, the greater the likelihood of extreme weather events, and broken records didn't prove anything about climate change.

The prime minister earlier this week accused UN climate chief Christiana Figueres of "talking through her hat" by suggesting the fires were the result of global warming.

This prompted a backlash from the Australian Greens - themselves accused of politicising the bushfire tragedy - and a rebuke from former US president and climate advocate Al Gore.

Now the Climate Council has joined the fray, arguing the link between climate change and the likelihood of bushfires is clear.

The council - the former Climate Commission abolished by the Abbott government - claims the unusually hot and dry conditions leading to large and intense fires was consistent with climate science.

"Australia has always had bushfires," ANU professor Will Steffen said in a statement.

"However, climate change is increasing the probability of extreme fire weather days and is lengthening the fire season."

Greens leader Christine Milne said Mr Abbott was continuing to make a laughing stock of Australia on the world stage by ignoring the climate science.

"It would be laughable if it were not so serious," she said in a statement.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said he believed climate change was fundamentally linked to human activity, but didn't want to speculate on the fires while people's homes were still on the line.


Boys seen trying to light fire

Police have urged parents to be aware of what their children are up to after two eight-year-old boys were found trying to start a fire in East Maitland in the NSW Hunter region.

Police said that shortly after 6.30pm (AEDT) on Wednesday officers and firefighters were called to a block of vacant land in Quarry Street by a concerned member of the public.

Two boys aged eight were detained after being found with a lighter which was later found to be not working.

Police were told the boys were seen attempting to set fire to dry leaves and grass they had collected.

Officers located the boys' parents and spoke with them and completed child at risk notifications due to their actions.

Due to their age no charges can be laid, police said.


Crackdown

Any Blue Mountains landlords seeking to capitalise from people who have lost their homes in the bushfires are "heartless grubs" and will be fined and shamed.

That's the message from NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell who says Fair Trading is investigating reports one landlord tried to ratchet up his rent ahead of an anticipated increase in bushfire-affected people seeking temporary accommodation.

"That's unconscionable behaviour. Fair Trading will crack down on it," Mr O'Farrell said.

"We have the power to name and shame people that engage in such practices.

"This sort of bastardry, trying to price gouge off the back of a natural disaster, is unacceptable."

Any "heartless grub" seeking to benefit from someone else's hardship could face a fine of up to $220,000 for an individual or $1.1 million for corporations, he warned.

Fair Trading inspectors are on the ground in bushfire zones on the lookout for such behaviour.



Looting is not widespread in the bushfire-ravaged Blue Mountains but NSW police say they're taking a pro-active approach.

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione says there's no lower act than stealing from people who are already fearing for their lives and possessions.

"We're not going to wait, we're not taking chances that's why they (listeners) are seeing the riot squad out there," he told Triple M radio on Wednesday.

"They will continue to see them out there until they need to go."

A Winmalee couple told Triple M they were woken by police after midnight on Tuesday, asking if they knew the man and woman in their driveway.

The pair had been caught sorting through goods in their driveway.

"It's lower than the snake's belly," Mr Scipione said of the report.

"When somebody is down to their knees because they've lost their house or they're petrified about what a day like today might look like, and somebody comes in and says `I'm going to make their misery even worse'.

"They go and break-in and steal all of their prized possessions, I don't think there's anything lower."

Mr Scipione wouldn't comment on cases of children charged with lighting bushfires, but urged parents to know where their children are.

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