Sir Ivan Fire February 2017

The Sir Ivan fire burnt more than 55,000 hectares of land during the worst fire conditions ever experienced in NSW.

35 houses were destroyed by the fire with another 11 damaged. A church and community hall were also destroyed. There was also extensive stock losses, and more than 5,000 kilometres of fencing damaged or destroyed.

Despite some of the worst fire conditions ever recorded in NSW, firefighters and the community saved 80 homes and 125 outbuildings.

The emergency begins

In early February 2017, New South Wales was in the grip of a severe and prolonged heatwave event. Temperatures were in the low to mid 40s across a large part of the state.

The forecast for the weekend of Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 February was 'as bad as it gets'. Severe fire danger would be experienced across many areas on Saturday, worsening to Catastrophic conditions on the Sunday.

It was around lunchtime on Saturday that the Sir Ivan fire was first detected in the area of Sir Ivan Doughtery Drive at Leadville, just east of Dunedoo, following a call to Triple Zero.

With the forecast of worsening fire conditions, a significant effort was launched to contain and slow the fire using local and out-of-area resources, supported by aircraft and heavy plant. Crews worked hard into the night to protect homes and properties, and put in a strategic backburn which would later prove critical in slowing the fire and stopping it from reaching larger communities on Sunday.

The Sir Ivan fire was detected on Saturday 11 February 2017. The fire spread quickly and firefighters, assisted by farmers, aircraft and heavy plant equipment, worked in difficult conditions to slow its spread.

Saturday 11 February

With Catastrophic fire conditions forecast for the following day, strike teams had been established so that firefighters could respond quickly to any new fires.

At around lunchtime on Saturday 11 February, a fire was reported in the area of Sir Ivan Doughtery Drive at Leadville. It was spreading quickly to the east.

While there was no immediate threat to homes, local brigades including Leadville, Dunedoo, Uarbry and Hannahs Bridge responded.

They were shortly joined by further crews and aircraft, including the Large Air Tanker (C130 Hercules) and the Very Large Air Tanker (DC10), along with heavy plant equipment such as bulldozers.

The firefighters worked through the afternoon and night and helped slow the spread of the fire. A strategic backburn was put in place that night by local crews.

Across Saturday afternoon and night, a significant amount of resources worked on the fire and helped slow the fire, including:

  • 13 local crews
  • 2 strike teams
  • 1 Rapid Aerial Response Team, working from a helicopter
  • 5 heavy plant (3 graders and 2 bulldozers)
  • 2 Large Air Tanker, including one from Victoria
  • A Very Large Air Tanker (DC10)
  • 6 other aircraft
This linescan image shows the fire activity at around 3:30pm on Saturday, as the fire was burning quickly to the east.
Additional crews, including these from the Shoalhaven area, were responded to the fire. On Saturday 11 February, there were nine aircraft working on the fire, including two Large Air Tankers and the DC10 Very Large Air Tanker.

Sunday 12 February 2017

The fire weather forecast for Sunday was 'as bad as it gets'.

The fight continued early on Sunday. Throughout the morning, the fire spotted over containment lines in several locations but firefighters were able to stop the fire getting away.

That morning the wind increased dramatically and by around 10am more spotovers had occurred, including near the Golden Highway which was then closed. As the fire started spreading to the east, it was upgraded to Emergency Warning, the highest level of bush fire alert.

Telephone warnings were sent to properties in the immediate path of the fire. Throughout the day eight Emergency Alert telephone warnings were sent as the fire moved quickly and impacted on communities, including the areas of Uarbry, Turill, Cassilis, Merriwa, Coolah and Leadville.

The village of Uarbry was heavily impacted by the fire. Firefighters, aircraft and farmers worked hard to protect properties.

However under the hot, dry and windy conditions, there was little that could be done and many of the buildings in the village were destroyed.

As conditions continued to worsen, and with roads in the area becoming extremely dangerous, the focus turned to protecting life - including ensuring the safety of firefighters.

Cassilis saved

Throughout the day, the fire continued to spread and build in intensity.

Under the Catastrophic conditions, it was becoming too dangerous for firefighters remain in the path of the head of the fire and residents between the fire and Cassilis were told to relocate to the village of Cassilis.

Fire prediction maps showed that there was a very real risk to the village. Indeed, the worst case scenario was that Cassilis would be surrounded by fire, especially as the forecast southerly change moved through.

Fire prediction map from the afternoon of Sunday 12 February 2017. The red lines show the forecast perimeter of the fire at different times. In the centre of the map you can see Cassilis identified as a threatened community.

Strike teams were placed in the town to protect it and its residents, as well as the many people who heeded the warnings and relocated there.

Fortunately, the southerly change moved in early, before the fire should reach the township and its people.

Also, the backburn undertaken the previous night is thought to have stopped the fire breaching containment lines for about two hours. If it hadn't, it is possible that the fire would have reached Cassilis.

Fire conditions 'as bad as it gets'

Temperatures on the day were in the mid-40s and winds were hot and dry. Under a Catastrophic fire danger rating, these are the worst conditions possible for a fire.

Under these conditions, homes are not designed to survive a fire and the focus is on protecting life.

The Sir Ivan fire grew in intensity, producing so much smoke, that it produced a 'pyrocumulonimbus' cloud.

The fire started to create its own weather system, with a large cloud of smoke producing lightning.

These lightning strikes started new fires well ahead of the fire - some as many as 80 kilometres away from the firefront.

It is believed that the smoke cloud was close to 'collapsing', which would then create a violent storm with winds of around 100 kilometres an hour.

On the Sunday afternoon, the fire created a pyro-cumulonimbus cloud. This creates its own weather system and lightning strikes started new fires ahead of the main fire. Photo: Merrin Stafford
Map showing how the fire progressed over time. On Sunday 12 February, the fire took a major run to the east - from the yellow shaded area in the morning to the red/brown colour later that night. By this stage there was approximately 200 kilometres of fire edge.

Property Losses

NSW RFS Building Impact Assessment Teams went into the fire affected area in the hours after the fire impacted on properties. Their assessments allowed residents to return to their properties as quickly as possible, once dangerous trees and power lines had been removed. These are the losses they confirmed:

  • 35 homes destroyed, 11 damaged
  • 2 community facilities (a church and a community hall) destroyed, with 3 others damaged
  • 131 outbuildings destroyed, with 42 damaged
  • 80 homes in the fire area saved, along with 125 outbuildings
  • 2905 stock deaths reported to the Department of Primary Industries
  • Approximately 5,700 hectares of fencing damaged or destroyed.
Unfortunately my parents home was one to be taken! Can't thank every single one of you the brave firefighters who have been battling for days to get this under control! Sad to see their home go! But nothing matters more knowing they are safe! Household goods can be replaced, lives can't! Courtney
The fire caused extensive damage and destruction to homes and properties. It also caused widespread damage to infrastructure including telephone and power lines.

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