COUNTING THE COST: Coonabarabran families fear the fate of their homes

A MEETING for Wambelong fire evacuees at the Coonabarabran Bowling Club yesterday at 12.30pm was heavy with concern as uncertainty over the survival of homes weighed heavily on many people’s minds. 

While some of about 150 people present at the information meeting knew their home and livestock had already been consumed by the fast moving flames that began on Saturday; others were left wondering if their property was among the 33 reported destroyed.

In total 214 people had registered at two evacuation centres, the Coonabarabran Bowling Club and the Tattersall’s Hotel in Baradine, but many evacuees were now staying with family, friends or in local motels.

Evacuees learned it could be three to four weeks before the Wambelong fire had been conquered by the more than 150 NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) firefighters working in a co-ordinated effort with other agencies to tame the out-of-control blaze that has consumed more than 40,000 hectares.

Frustration was apparent as numerous questions were aired about when access to properties would be granted to see what remained of homes and to tend to animals that might have survived.

Five RFS strike forces, each containing 25 firefighters, had been called into the area, with heavy machinery from the Warrumbungle Shire Council also at work creating containment lines with eight graders and a bulldozer.

About 20 water bombing aircraft, including ‘Malcolm’ the air-crane, doused the roaring flames of the Wambelong fire continually throughout the day after filling up from the Coonabarabran Aerodrome.

Evacuees expressed concern that media outlets seemed to know more about the devastation the fire had caused to their properties.

One woman at the meeting asked emergency services for a more personalised approach, to speak to the community members affected instead of using the media as a mouthpiece for updates on the situation.

Dozens of burnt and fallen power poles, many with live electrical wires, and the danger of falling burnout trees were current hazards emergency staff told the crowd.

Community members also gave thanks to the enormous efforts of emergency staff who had been battling the blaze for days.

Siding Spring Observatory operations manager Doug Gray was too exhausted to speak standing in front of the crowd and instead sat as he thanked the “remarkable” efforts of emergency personnel.

“What you don’t realise because you are behind the scenes is there are certain people out there who have actually protected your houses,” he said.

About 18 staff were successfully evacuated from the Siding Spring Observatory as the Wambelong fire approached through the Warrumbungle National Park.

Mr Gary urged evacuees to be patient and wait until emergency services said it was safe to return to their properties.

“Out of respect for the RFS we are not actually going to the site,” he said.

“I know you want to get back to your properties, we want to get back to the telescope but we are not going back until we get the all clear from them and the road is clear.”

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