Walcha was covered in a blanket of smoke yesterday thanks to two ferocious fires burning in the district at Tingha and Tenterfield. This was compounded by a dust front from western NSW which the windy weather distributed across central and coastal NSW on Tuesday.
The dust, along with fires in the state’s north-west, also blanketed a thick haze over Tamworth. Quality assessments show Tamworth had a poorer air quality index than the eastern suburbs of Sydney yesterday morning and the Office of Environment and Heritage listed Tamworth’s air quality index at 99, just one point away from moving into the “poor” category.
The NSW government urged people who are sensitive to air pollution to plan strenuous outdoor activities when air quality is better and said should Tamworth crack the 100 point threshold, a health alert will be issued.
Yesterday morning, the NSW Rural Fire Service downgraded the Tingha Plateau to watch and act with a 5618-hectare fire still burning. Then activity across the fireground increased due to strengthening winds forcing Rural Fire Service (RFS) crews to declare the fire out-of-control and issue an emergency warning alert. As the fire moved south towards Howell Road and to the east near Old Mill, residents were advised to seek shelter if a path was clear.
An evacuation centre was established, and Thunderbolts Way remained closed.
While surrounded by fires on all sides, in the Walcha Shire itself only a one-hectare bushfire burned under control in Riamukka State Forest.
Strong winds of up to 40 km per hour continued to buffet Walcha and the rest of New England, and the region sweltered under a severe fire warning from the Bureau of Meteorology until the arrival of today's cool front.
More hot weather is predicted for Walcha from Sunday with a forecast maximum of 32 degrees Celsius on Monday.