By Sarah Dean
Suspicious grass fires in the region including a grass fire that came within several kilometres of Mulwala’s munitions factory and a new housing estate last Wednesday has put police on high alert.
Police have confirmed there are at least 10 suspicious roadside grass fires between Corowa and Mulwala that are being investigated.
A Triple-O call just before 2pm alerted authorities to last Wednesday’s fire near Barooga-Tocumwal and Savernake Roads, about 4km north of Mulwala.
Firefighters spent several hours bringing the blaze under control that burnt 209ha, 400 hay bales and 10 kilometres of fencing, with crews working well into the morning to mop up and monitor the scene.
Residents in nearby housing areas were put on alert while all firefighting resources were dispatched, including a large Air Tanker Nancy Bird that could be seen hovering over Yarrawonga-Mulwala.
Several other water bombing aircraft assisted up to 20 firefighting crews including the Rural Fire Service, Fire and Rescue, CFA, and a full strike team from Albury attended.
The incident is among a string of roadside fires that police are looking into between Yarrawonga and Corowa since the start of the year.
Corowa Police Sergeant Andrew Robertson, who attended last Wednesday’s fire, said given the extreme dry and windy conditions the fire had the potential to be “devastating”.
“It came close to a new housing estate on the Mulwala-Barooga Road and got to the stage where RFS sent out an alert to bunker down,” he said.
“A wind change sent the fire another way, so we were lucky in that respect.”
Sgt Robertson said there had been a
number of fires in the vicinity of Spring Drive in a short space of time and police, in conjunction with RFS, were looking at every avenue as to how they started.
“At the moment there are a number of fires that we are investigating and treating as suspicious, so we are asking residents to remain vigilant,” he said.
“If you see anyone acting suspicious while perhaps parked on the side of the road, in areas where you think they shouldn’t be or it doesn’t look normal, give us a call straight away.
“Take note of vehicle, its registration, description of person, it might be nothing but we would rather be notified and make that call ourselves.”
NSW RFS Southern Border Superintendent Pat Westwood said on Monday that the fire was still under patrol.
“The fire is still currently under patrol, we still have crews going out to monitor the area,” he said.
“Most of those resources were there until about midnight that night, and we scaled back to some resources in the afternoon.
“We had crews from Albury and a couple of local crews undertaking patrol works until 8am that morning when day crews replaced them.”
Supt Westwood said an emergency warning was issued to homeowners in the area.
“Crews worked pretty hard to pinch the fire, preventing it from going too much further south and also managed to have it run into a centre pivot irrigation paddock, which helped firefighters at the time,” he said.
“There were some plant operators on the scene that created a break on the southern edge to stop the extent.
“There were initial concerns that industrial sites around the north of Mulwala might have been impacted.”
Supt Westwood praised the work of firefighters who also carried out direct property protection for properties on the Barooga Road and saved some assets in there.
“Unfortunately the fire impacted 209ha, around 400 bales of hay and about 10 kilometres of fencing,” he said.
“Our crews did an amazing job considering the weather conditions on the day, we had 50 to 70km/h winds that pushed the fire very quickly.
“The community reacted well to the emergency warning and despite initial issues with people going to have a look at the fire; we managed to bring that area under some control within the first couple of hours.
“Just a reminder to people that go to a grass fire where warnings have been issued, it is not a place to visit as you can actually find yourself in the path of the fire against our advice.”
Mulwala Police Sergeant Grant Churchin told the Free Press there had been four incidents reported to NSW Police but discussions with RFS indicated there had been at least a further six incidents.
“All fires have been lit from the side of road,” he said.
“At this stage we are seeking information from the public concerning anyone who may have witnessed the lighting of the grass fires in an around Spring Drive over the last two months or who may have information on whom may be responsible.”
The most recent grass fire in Corowa started around noon on February 21 off Spring Drive, opposite Skehans Lane, that burnt 6ha of grass belonging to the Local Land Services.
Six fire tankers attended the scene and about 30 firefighters including Fire and Rescue Corowa.
The fire burnt many old fence posts with firefighters having the blaze under control within an hour.
The Free Press also reported on a grass fire that occurred on January 24 near Collendina, off Spring Drive and about 17km from Corowa, which burnt 6ha of bushland.
Thick smoke blanketed the area as fire crews worked for six hours to extinguish the fire.
Anyone with information on the fires is urged to contact the Mulwala Police Station (03) 5743 8099 Corowa Police Station on (02) 6033 1144, or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.
Firefighters thankful for hospitality
The Rural Fire Service, on behalf of all the firefighters at last Wednesday’s fire, would like to thank the staff from Mulwala’s La Porchetta at the Mulwala Water Ski Club for their generosity and hospitality.
The restaurant worked hard to ensure all firefighters were fed, while the ski club provided soft drinks.
NSW RFS Southern Border Superintendent Pat Westwood said La Porchetta owner Phil Papalia went above and beyond to make sure the firefighters were accommodated and got a good deal.
“His hospitality is absolutely exemplary from a community member just doing what they can to help out, it made a big difference to our people on the ground,” he said.