Australian military looking into training exercise link to blaze

AFP-JIJI

The Australian military said Saturday it was investigating whether a major bushfire was linked to an explosives training exercise, while firefighters battled blazes that have destroyed or damaged 300 homes.

The Rural Fire Service said around 80 fires were burning across New South Wales state, with about 20 of them uncontained.

Among the major fires was one burning between the towns of Lithgow and Bilpin, some 80 km northwest of Sydney, which intensified after burning through 30,000 hectares and reportedly destroying some properties.

“This fire is by no means contained,” New South Wales Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said. “It’s got absolutely kilometers and kilometers of fire front.”

The Australian Defence Force said it was investigating the circumstances of the fire near Lithgow, which began on military land.

“The fire started Oct. 16, the same day that defence personnel were conducting an explosive ordnance training activity,” it said in a statement.

“Defence is investigating if the two events are linked. Our thoughts are with those who have lost property or whose property is threatened by these devastating fires,” it added.

Meanwhile, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said some of the fires were so big they would take more time to completely extinguish.

“Firefighters will be working on these fires for weeks,” he said. “It’s all about reducing the risk of these fires to breach containment lines and run under hotter, drier, windier condition over coming days.”

In the meantime, residents were returning to the remains of their homes, searching through the rubble for valuables and keepsakes.

In Lithgow, the scenic tourist attraction the Zig Zag Railway has been hard hit, with trains, carriages and equipment destroyed. The railway, which runs on the original track built in the 1860s, was soon to be reopened to the public after being closed last year for upgrades.