A Tallong district property owner has questioned an RFS decision to drop incendiary devices over part of the Currowan fire ground on Sunday afternoon.
Hilary Myers, who lives towards the end of The Lookdown Road, some 7km southwest Tallong, said the fire had been burning along the Tolwong Plateau for weeks and had mostly stayed out of the gorge in an area visible from her road.
But in an unpublished letter to the editor, Mrs Myers said that all changed rapidly on Sunday, in relatively still conditions.
"I was quite surprised at how far the fire had spread and my husband called 000 to report the fire," she said.
But they were informed it was a backburn, which was under control.
But Mrs Myers said she was alarmed that the RFS had dropped incendiary devices into the gorge to encourage the fire to the river on such a hot day.
"I feel that this was a reckless decision given the fact that this area of the gorge is largely inaccessible except by helicopter. It is my understanding that the decision was also not supported by our local brigade," she wrote.
The Currowan fire is about 1.5km from her home and Mrs Myers is worried that with "worsening conditions" in coming days, the blaze will threaten properties. She told The Post she didn't understand why aerial water bombing wasn't introduced when the blaze was at the top of the gorge, rather than waiting until it ran down to the river.
She believed many people in Tallong weren't aware of the RFS strategy, although some were told at a RFS-hosted barbecue and information session in the village on Australia Day.
But Wollondilly Fire Control Centre public liaison officer, Jonty Bruce said while there had been "very vocalised" commentary on the strategy, it wouldn't have been employed if it wasn't considered safe.
"The fire is already burning naturally on top of the ridge, so the devices are aimed at spreading it downward and speeding up the inevitable," he said.
"We'd rather it get to the (Shoalhaven) River in a controlled way and monitor its spread."
Mr Bruce said the operation was carefully planned and coordinated and involved an aircraft dropping the chemical filled ping-pong ball size devices that ignited on impact. There was also an observer and a person coordinating water bombing aircraft.
"The alternative was to do nothing and have a situation where the fire picks up on a bad weather day, carries over and spots," he said.
"The incendiary devices burn out the understorey, reduce the fuel load so that on the next windy day, the fire risk is reduced."
Aircraft were assessing the operation's success on Monday and if it didn't fully achieve objectives, more would be undertaken, Mr Bruce said. It is concentrating on the southern side of the Shoalhaven River.
Meantime, in the same area, the Morton fire also increased in activity on Sunday. The 21,878 hectare blaze was upgraded to watch and act on that evening due to an isolated storm cell that passed through the area. Mr Bruce said this caused spotting around Penrose and some flare-ups at Caoura Road, Tallong. Here, it "took a run" for several metres but crews responded quickly.
The activity sent heavier smoke drifting over Goulburn. On Monday morning, the air quality index was 184, which is considered very poor.'
The alternative was to do nothing and have a situation where the fire picks up on a bad weather day, carries over and spots.Jonty Bruce - Southern Highlands RFS public liaison officer
Remote Area Firefighting Teams, heavy plant, water bombing and observation aircraft are working in the Tallong area today to respond to any increased fire activity and to strengthen containment lines. Backburning is taking place at Tallong and around Penrose.
Elsewhere, the incendiary devices are also being dropped over the Green Wattle Creek fireground. The 278,722ha blaze is being controlled.
Mr Bruce said several hotpsots had flared east of Taralga on Sunday in unburnt vegetation. These were extinguished and crews have been patrolling today.
Elsewhere, a fire near Windellama is at patrol status. It started on a Yarralaw Road property at 1.20pm Friday and burnt two hectares. RFS Southern Tablelands operations officer, Daniel Osborne, said several hotspots had flared on Sunday but Windellama crews had been patrolling.
"We hope to get it out today," he said on Monday.
Its cause is still being investigated.
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