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Gell River Fire update 6 January 2019 9.00am


A fire is burning within the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, to the north and east of Lake Rhona. The fire was ignited by a lightning storm that crossed the state on the evening of 27 December 2018.

Parks and Wildlife Service responded to the lightning event by sending a spotter flight over the affected area, where two fires in the proximity of the Gell River were identified (Gell River fire and Battlement Hills fire, which later merged). 15 staff were mobilised and an Incident Management Centre was established at Strathgordon.

Helicopters were sent to relocate bushwalkers from the affected area and walking tracks were closed. Firefighters were also mobilised onto the fire ground. Water bombing of the fire was also undertaken.

Current situation

The fire has so far burnt 17,000 ha and is burning largely buttongrass and some transitional vegetation (scrub), in steep and rugged terrain. The northerly wind change that came through on Thursday night pushed the fire into the Vale of Rasselas, where the fire made a substantial run during the day on Friday. This caused a large amount of smoke to move over the Hobart area. The southernmost extent of the fire is currently to the south of Gell’s lookout, in the Tiger Range. The eastern boundary has reached the top of the Gordon Range in places, where it has burnt up the drier ridgelines. There are also some hotspots over the Gordon Range, in the Florentine Valley.

The western boundary has burnt up the buttongrass slopes into the Denison Range around Lake Rhona and other alpine lakes before self-extinguishing on the ridge tops. There is a sprinkler line at Lake Rhona, which is protecting the fire-sensitive vegetation. Crews are also working on the ground.

The fire remains uncontained but the milder weather has reduced fire behaviour.

There are a number of fire-sensitive World Heritage Values present in the area, including the alpine plateau above Lake Rhona and areas of mixed forest and temperate rainforest. Specific World Heritage Values at risk from the fire include pencil pines, king billy pines, peat soils and cushion plants.

The Parks and Wildlife Service and Tasmanian Fire Service is working hard to contain the fire and minimise the damage to these fire-sensitive communities and the potential for damage to critical civil infrastructure.

New methods of fire suppression are being trialled, including the use of aerial applied, long-term retardant, which was used on Thursday in an attempt to establish a fire break and try to prevent the fire impacting the Lake Rhona area.  Additional methods being trialled include sprinkler systems, which have been established around the high value, fire-sensitive assets (rainforest and alpine) in the Lake Rhona area. Firefighters on the ground are also being aided by the use of foam suppressants.

The use of firefighting suppressants and retardants in the World Heritage Area has been recently examined and the potential impacts assessed. As a result, guidelines for application of these products within the World Heritage Area have been developed, with any potential impact from the chemicals weighed up against the potential threat from the fire.

The State Government has not hesitated in supporting the use of the best available technology in remote area firefighting through the utilisation of large air tankers and retardant. This investment is being made as part of the effort to protect the Outstanding Universal Values within the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

There are currently over 50 personnel and six helicopters allocated to fighting the fire, with Incident Management Centres established at Strathgordon and Cambridge.

The current fire boundary can be found on the TFS website at:  http://www.fire.tas.gov.au/Show?pageId=colGMapBushfires