Fire fighters faced horrific and challenging conditions as they battled to contain the Millingandi/Yellowpinch bushfire that started about midday on Friday, January 18 in 44 degree heat, said Far South Coast RFS Superintendent John Cullen incident controller, of the Millingandi fires.
One home, five sheds and one tank in Forest Lane, Millingandi were destroyed in the fire, the cause of which, is unknown at this stage.
Superintendent Cullen said that investigations were continuing.
The fire burnt an area of about 215 hectares with a 6km perimeter.
Up to 20 units, a strike team from Queanbeyan, four dozers and four water bombing helicopters were on the scene when the fire was at its most intense between 1pm and 6pm.
The section of the Princes Highway between Wolumla and Pambula was closed at about 5.30pm and was reopened on Saturday at 10.30am. Traffic was diverted to Sapphire Coast Drive, Kalaru and through to Bega.
The fire broke out north of the end of Boggy Creek Road fanned by a strong north-westerly wind pushing it south with Merimbula at risk.
Residents in the Millingandi area were advised to leave immediately but many had already activated their fire plans and had left grabbing pets and precious items. At 2pm the devastating impact of the fire was realised in Forest Lane with some properties undefendable due to the horrendous conditions.
Meanwhile choppers were water bombing properties as they circled overhead, though their job would have been hard given the thickness of the smoke.
A wind change warning was issued to fire fighters at 2pm and at 2.25pm, the southerly buster hit the fire area causing the fire to turn in on itself and race north towards Yellowpinch.
At about 2.30 to 3pm the fire jumped the Princes Highway into Bournda Nature Reserve. This fire had the potential to engulf the Merimbula tip and put Tura Beach at risk.
At 3.15pm fires were crowning up to 8 metres near houses making it dangerous for fire crews.
At 4pm all stops were pulled out to save Potoroo Palace Wildlife Sanctuary as the fire intensified in the Red Gum Road, Yellowpinch area.
Superintendent Cullen said conditions were particularly challenging for the fire crews that came from around the shire including Bermagui in the north to Wonboyn in the south.
“The fire started with a strong north westerly, in horrific heat and then the southerly buster arrived which added to the ferocity and speed as it took the fire back north,” Superintendent Cullen said.
“The thick smoke and ensuring residents had evacuated, created further challenges; power lines were down and trees were down.”
Residents were allowed to return to their homes on Saturday with many expecting the worst, but overjoyed to see their homes had been saved.
Superintendent Cullen said he could not remember that last time a bushfire claimed a home in the Bega Valley Shire.
“It is an absolute miracle that only one home was lost and that was due to the work of the fire fighters, the police plus the water bombing aircraft that saved homes.
“There are a lot of properties and assets in there.”
Mopping up continues in the area and as of Monday fire crews aided by a Strike team from Eurobodalla were working to control the western flank of the fire.
“It is quite safe now but residents need to be aware of hot areas on their property and if they should have any concerns to phone Triple Zero immediately.”
Superintendent Cullen said the shire was as dry as it was during the drought years.
“I encourage all residents to prepare, have a plan and stay aware.”