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Bush and peat fire burning for 210 days in NSW declared 'out' in wake of weekend deluge


Feb. 12, 2020

A peat fire burning in Port Macquarie for 210 days has, on Wednesday, been declared completely out in the wake of the weekend deluge.
Key points:
A fire burning near Port Macquarie Airport in NSW since July 2019 has been declared extinguished
About 400 hectares burnt was peat under the surface of the ground
Local residents are expressing concerns over the affect of smoke inhalation during this time
The Lindfield Park Road fire near the Port Macquarie Airport, in New South Wales, started on July 18, 2019 and burnt 400 hectares of peat under the surface — a significant amount given the total fire ground was 858 hectares.
Rural Fire Service district officer Stuart Robb said everyone involved with the fire was relieved.
"Today we have finished final inspections and are happy to mark that fire as out so very happy with that," he said.
"We've had just 260mm [of rain] fall over that fire ground which has been sufficient to be the final part of that peat fire."
The fire presented a number of challenges for firefighters including its close proximity to the airport and nearby built-up areas.
"The difficulty was in the nature the material, being peat," Mr Robb said.
"Because the wetland was so dry, the peat was dry and easily ignited and then would burn underground."
In September, the Rural Fire Service (RFS) tried to tackle the fire by flooding it with reclaimed water .
The rehydration was a key component to the fire being extinguished said Mr Robb.
"We have had 65 megalitres of water flow into the wetland which brought the water levels up to a point where the surface water from the recent rains has been able to complete the extinguishing," he said.
Breathing sigh of relief
Bushfire smoke took its toll on Port Macquarie and many schools were closed on a number of days, sometimes at short notice because of the poor air quality.
Retired teacher Colleen Carmody now lives with ongoing respiratory issues due to the smoke there.
Since July, the peat fire had triggered coughing fits that left Ms Carmody unable to breathe or to sleep and led to her being hospitalised for five days because of smoke.
"I had to spend the first 24 hours on a trolley because there wasn't even a bed in the emergency because everyone was coming in with respiratory problems."
Ms Carmody now has to use a Ventolin puffer even though she has no family history of asthma.
"No one in my family has asthma, I've never had asthma," she said.
"My voice wasn't like this before; I could speak clearly and enunciate clearly before, but now I can't.
"It's hard for me to talk. I feel as though I'm shouting."
Concerns for new baby
Smoke from the fire has been extremely concerning for Paola Borwell and her husband who are expecting their first child .
"Smoke does get into your house and you're constantly worried and on alert thinking that it's going to affect not only myself but my baby," Ms Borwell said.
She said air purifiers were sold out everywhere or too expensive to buy so the only way she could manage was to stay indoors.
"[We tried] things like air-conditioning and a dehumidifier and just trying to keep the smoke out of the house in terms of closing the windows and putting towels under doors and things," she said.
"That was pretty much all we could do; that went on for months.
Ms Borwell was surprised that the health professionals she was seeing at the time did not seem to share her concerns.
"Being a naturopath myself I kind of have a little bit of background in the health industry," she said.
"I was a little bit shocked about how it didn't seem like a severe thing to be out in the smoke.
"I was told to avoid it but when I asked [about] the health implications, I didn't just go to my GP, I also called the hospital [and] they didn't seem to be that concerned about it.
She said specialists told her they would "have to wait and see" over the years whether the smoke had affected children.
Impacts of smoke to be considered in bushfire inquiry
Ms Borwell has welcomed an inquiry into the health impacts of poor air quality caused by bushfire smoke and drought.
The inquiry will evaluate the government response to recent hazardous air quality across NSW, including providing face masks and air purifiers and keeping the public informed.
"I think the worst part of this entire process was that the transparency wasn't good enough," she said.
"I had to do a lot of research on my own and in a time of crisis, that's probably not something that you should have to do.
"That information should be given to you [so] hopefully it will help things in the future."
The fire ground looks completely different now to how it looked months ago.
"We've got some regrowth, which is excellent, and a significant part of the wetland is under water so, very good news," Mr Robb said.
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