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Gell River Fire update 12 January 2019 11.30 am


A fire is burning within the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park, to the north of the Denison Range and through the Vale of Rasselas. 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). 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 and water bombing of the fire was undertaken.

Current situation

The fire has so far burnt 20,500 ha and is burning largely buttongrass and some transitional vegetation (scrub), in steep and rugged terrain. The southernmost extent of the fire is approximately 7 km north of Adamsfield, to the north of the Gordon Gorge. 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 has protected the fire-sensitive vegetation. Ground crews and water bombing aircraft have been protecting these communities in other alpine areas also.

The fire remains uncontained but the milder weather has reduced fire behaviour and allowed ground crews to conduct backburns. The fire control line established along the Adamsfield Track has protected cultural heritage sites and critical civil infrastructure. Sprinklers that were established around Churchills Hut were successful.

Specialist teams have begun assessing fire damage to the organic soils and within the alpine zone. Continuing fire activity along the eastern boundary has made assessment of the tall eucalypt forests not possible for the time being.

Under the current weather conditions and relatively high soil moistures the fire is not burning through wet forest or peat. Crews and water bombing aircraft have been making good progress over the last few days and many active fire edges have been minimised. The forecast for Very High to High fire dangers for the area this Sunday and Monday may once again increase fire activity.

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. There are also cultural heritage sites at Gordonvale, Adamsfield and Mount Wright.

Parks and Wildlife Service, along with Tasmania Fire Service and Sustainable Timber Tasmania, 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. 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 100 personnel engaged in the Gell River fire incident, including 12 specialist fire fighters from the NSW Rural Fire Service as well as other staff to support from NSW. Fire operations are being supported by nine helicopters allocated to fighting the fire, along with Incident Management Centres 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