I was down the Wolgan Valley, counting Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby scats with NPWS and gathering images for an upcoming Australian Geographic story on Wollemi National Park, when one morning we awoke to an ominous pall of smoke.
That was the day after the terrible Thursday (17 October) when a howling nor-wester drove three fires through the central Blue Mountains area, tragically taking 200 houses with them (but thankfully no lives). But in our remote location we didn’t know that then (although I had seen a fire from the cliff-top the day before).
When we did get word, we packed up the next morning and travelled back home, into the mayhem. Mt Victoria was smoked in and my family was worried. One of the fires was quite close, but never threatened us directly. Backburning continued around the Mt York fire and elsewhere, in preparation for more dire weather on Wednesday 23 October. But a few millimetres of rain and the work done averted another potential disaster.
As I write, the immediate danger to most townships has passed, but the fires are still out there and getting bigger, impacting the World Heritage Area. Hundreds of firefighters are still working hard to contain the blazes. The State Mine Gully fire is advancing northwards into Wollemi National Park on a broad front, and if not held on Bungleboori or Nayook Creeks, will eventually threaten the same Wolgan rock wallaby colonies that we were monitoring.
Other big fronts are active in the upper Grose Valley, north of Springwood, north-east of Bilpin and in the top end of Wollemi. New fires (from lightning on 22 October) are spreading west of the Colo River and east from the Putty Road into Yengo National Park. A few days of benign weather (we had a frost this morning!) will give firefighters a chance to get on top of some of these, but we desperately need rain….and a lot of it.