Adelaide Hills residents have told of how they evacuated and took refuge from the frontline of a bushfire that threatened their homes.
Rod Mills and Marianne Howie, who live on Cherry Gardens Road, spent Sunday night at the Cherry Gardens Ironbank Recreation Ground, along with their three horses and seven dogs.
Ms Howie and the animals evacuated late in the afternoon, while Mr Mills stayed until after 10pm to wet down areas of the property.
“I put the fire pumps on, made sure they all worked,” he said.
“Then I got the hose because we still had mains water, so I just hosed everything down, all the dry leaves and as far down the paddock as I could.
“And then I put some more stuff in the car, it was getting closer and when it came over that last hill I knew it was time to go.”
The couple slept in their car at the ground and have not been back to their property, but Mr Mills is hopeful it has been spared.
“The only good thing I can say is a lot of the grass has been eaten down by sheep,” he said.
“So I’m fairly confident it would have stopped but we don’t know.”
Also waiting at the oval on Monday was Danny Jansen, who lives on Dorset Vale Road at Cherry Gardens and noticed fire outside his house on Sunday afternoon.
“We just came back in from the pool, we got changed, put on the telly and then looked out the window and it was like ‘there’s a fire out there’,” he said.
“And then there was another one and I was like ‘what’s going on here?’ They all started very close to each other.”
He reported the fire to the CFS, who had been alerted to a different fire that was nearby at Hicks Hill Road.
Mr Jansen’s wife and two young children left the property before the fire came within 200 metres of their home.
“You know where you live and you know of the risks,” he said.
“Our main plan is just leave – you can sit there and fight it but the risk is too high.”
The family spent the night away from the property and Mr Jensen was hoping to return on Monday afternoon to collect some items before one of his children starts school on Wednesday.
Sitting in his car at the oval with his dog, Wizz, he said his family has lived in the area for six years and had never before evacuated.
“It’s concerning because that area hasn’t burnt for a long time,” he said.
An investigation has been launched into the horror bushfires that have raged across Adelaide Hills, with authorities believing they may have been deliberately lit.
Fire services are working with police to determine the cause of the blaze, which has razed about 2500ha of land.
CFS state duty commander Yvette Dowling said having more than one fire erupt in the same area was a red flag.
“When you get multiple fire starts all in the same place you’ve got to wonder what the cause is,” she told reporters on Monday afternoon.
“Fire Cause Investigation are there today so there’s a team of CFS, MFS and SA Police doing that and as soon as we know that cause, we’ll make sure we provide that information.
“(Police) will look at each fire start that we had in that area yesterday separately and then they’ll work out whether there’s a pattern or any linkages.
“I’d imagine it would take a couple of days to get to that point.”
Police confirmed a 60-year-old man who was charged with starting one fire in the area would be questioned in relation to the other blazes.
SA Police Inspector Gus Sickerdick told residents at a community meeting at Echunga that investigators were examining the fire ground with a “fine tooth comb”.
An emergency warning was issued for the northern part of the Cherry Gardens bushfire about 8am on Monday but has since been downgraded to an advice message.
More than 400 firefighters are continuing to battle the 2500ha blaze, which began about 4pm Sunday.
Ms Dowling said crews on the ground had heavy machinery to put in control lines and were supported by six aerial firefighting aircraft overnight.
She said weather conditions were looking favourable later on Monday afternoon.
“We’re not going to say that it’s (the fire) going to be out because the vegetation through there is so thick.
“There’s going to be stumps and some sort of fire behaviour probably for the next week but we’re going to be making sure that we have the appropriate number of crews on the ground to put those out as required.”
The advice message is in place for Heathfield, Longwood, Mylor, Bradbury, Biggs Flat, Scotts Creek, Cherry Gardens, Mount Bold and Chapel Hill in the Mount Lofty Ranges.
A watch-and-act warning was in place earlier on Monday.
Fire conditions proved difficult for firefighters because of erratic local weather pushing the blaze in multiple directions, according the CFS.
“Rain is forecast to fall on the fireground today, but it is unlikely to be enough to put the fire out,” it said.
“Wind gusts associated with approaching rain and thunderstorms may increase fire behaviour. The community is asked to remain alert to the changing conditions.”
Assessment teams are still working to determine how many properties have been either damaged or destroyed by the fire.
At least 11 structures were affected, with two believed to be homes and a number of sheds, but the severity is still unclear, according to Ms Dowling.
“When you look at what the fire behaviour was doing yesterday, it could have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for the great work of the crews out on the ground and also that aircraft that was supporting those crews.”
CFS incident controller Scott Turner said two fires of concern had multiple ignition sites.
He said there were two points of ignition for the Cherry Gardens fire, while the fire spanning from Clarendon, Mount Bold and Scott Creek was made up of at least five fires.
“We also know as our fires continued yesterday the fire itself generated new ignitions hence the investigation team will work for a couple of days to rule out the ignition started by the fire and any other causes that may or may not be found,” Mr Turner said.
Up to 300 CFS firefighters will remain on the ground overnight and 300 have also been requested to help contain the blaze on Tuesday.
Over coming days, road closures will be reduced but CFS Incident Controller Scott Turner reminded the broader Adelaide community it was still “not a safe area”.
“We will have a considerable volume of traffic from fire service and support agency personnel as we continue to assess the scene over the coming days,” he said.
“The dangers from this will remain for many days until we can get a black line all the way around the 28km perimeter.
“Once the rain abates and the moisture dries in the next 24 hours we will commence burning operation on the northern area.
“The intent there is to reduce the fuel load and potential for the fire to rekindle and burn up to the back of properties.”
Mr Turner said the aim was to have the fire controlled by 8pm on Tuesday but fire crews would need to remain on site for about a week to patrol the area and mop up.
Earlier on Monday, Mr Turner said two separate wind patterns were challenging for firefighters.
“Firefighters steered the fire with primary focus of protecting lives … We apologise our men and women weren’t able to stop some of those fires,” he said.
“This fire is not controlled, it is not in containment lines and currently we don’t expect it to be until tomorrow … this fire poses a real risk to all communities around us.”
NO FEDERAL HELP NEEDED
Premier Steven Marshall said he spoke with the Prime Minister who offered “any level of support” to battle the blaze.
However, after speaking with the CFS, Mr Marshall said the additional help was not needed.
“I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to contain this very soon, but that’s only possible because of the outstanding efforts of so many people working together to bring this dangerous situation under control,” he said.
Residents across metropolitan Adelaide could smell smoke, with many taking to social media to show the plumes visible from their streets.
SA Health warned the smoke could pose a serious risk to the general public, particularly for those who suffer from heart or lung conditions.
Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Emily Kirkpatrick said extra precautions should be taken because of the combination of recent hot weather and the poor air quality.
“Smoke particles can aggravate existing health problems such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and heart conditions,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.
“Other vulnerable groups include people 65 years and older, young children and infants, pregnant women and people with diabetes.”
The department is urging people to stay indoors where possible, avoid outdoor exercise and reduce exposure to the smoke.
Windows and doors should be kept closed until it clears.
It is also advised to avoid running evaporative air conditioners which draw in external air.
Car air conditioner should also be programmed to recirculate.
A humid day with afternoon rain and a top of 30C had been forecast for the Mount Lofty Ranges area on Monday, with the chance of a thunderstorm and 15 to 20km/h winds.
Heavy rain swept across some fire affected areas in the early afternoon.
The South Eastern Freeway remains open.
For updates visit the CFS website or phone the Bushfire Information Hotline on 1800 362 361.
The Education Department closed 16 government schools, preschools and kindergartens.
The schools are:
- Kangarilla Primary School
- Clarendon Primary School
- Clarendon Kindergarten
- Mylor Primary School
- Echunga Primary School
- Heathfield Primary School
- Heathfield High School
- Bridgewater Primary School
- Bridgewater Kindergarten
- Aldgate Primary School
- Aldgate Kindergarten
- Stirling East Primary School
- Stirling East Kindergarten
- Stirling and Districts Kindergarten
- Upper Sturt Primary School
- Scott Creek Primary School
The department advised all families in the Mount Lofty area to continue monitoring CFS warnings and incidents.
An alleged drunk driver was charged with arson after he was allegedly caught driving at high speed near the scene of a bushfire.
Police will allege a patrol responding to a bushfire that had recently started in Clarendon on Piggott Range Road just after 6pm on Sunday spotted a vehicle “speeding away” from the fire.
Officers tried to stop the white Hyundai sedan but the car failed to stop and was pursued by police for a short distance, SA Police said in a statement.
“The car stopped a short time later with the driver and sole occupant, a 60-year-old Hallett Cove man, placed under arrest,” police said.
Police said the man was breath tested and allegedly returned a result of 0.145.
Police also alleged the car’s number plates appeared to have been altered.
He has been charged with causing a bushfire, unlicensed driving, aggravated engage in police pursuit, drink-driving and alter/deface number plates.
He was refused bail and will face Christies Beach Court on Monday.
Police said the fire was extinguished by members of the public, with minimal damage caused to scrubland.
Police are asking members of the public who may have witnessed the fire or have dashcam footage of the incident to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
– with Jack Paynter