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Kangawalla fire: tragedy as firefighters battling Kangawalla fire near Glen Innes discover body in car

Wytaliba Public School was destroyed by the Kangawalla fire.
Wytaliba Public School was destroyed by the Kangawalla fire.

The Kangawalla fire east of Glen Innes has claimed at least two lives and destroyed much of Wytaliba, including the school.

Police have begun an investigation on behalf of the Coroner after a body was found in a burnt-out vehicle on Saturday, near Wytaliba, about 50km east of Glen Innes.

Meanwhile, a woman who was found unconscious on Friday night with burns to 40 to 50 per cent of her body at a propery on Old Grafton Road, died in Concord Hospital on Saturday morning.

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said firefighters gave the woman CPR for several hours on Friday night before paramedics could arrive.

"Despite the very best efforts of all involved we are advised this morning that that lady has passed away in hospital as a result of her injuries," he said.

Seven people had been hospitalised in Glen Innes by the blaze that has destroyed much of Wytaliba, including its school.

Glen Innes Severn Council mayor Carol Sparks lost a house she had in the village, as the blaze burnt through 60 properties.

Nine residents were still unaccounted for early Saturday afternoon, but that number was reduced to two later in the day.

Meanwhile most of the 35 residents who had been taken to an evacuation centre at the Glen Innes Showground had found temporary accommodation, while a few were able to return home.

On Saturday afternoon, the Westpac Rescue Helicopter was called into the fire grounds at Wytaliba, where a man was injured.

A statement from the rescue service said the helicopter, with the Helicopter Critical Care Medical Team onboard, landed on scene at 5.20pm and treated a 50-year-old male with relatively minor burns while protecting his property.

He needed hospital treatment and was flown to Tamworth Base Hospital in a stable condition.

The bridge burns at Wytaliba.

The bridge burns at Wytaliba.

Commissioner Fitzsimmons said police had done a forensic examination on the body found in the vehicle, including a formal identification process.

"Whatever the circumstances It's awful, it's horrific," Commissioner Fitzsimmons told Channel Seven on Saturday morning.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved, all those affected, and particularly those that have lost a loved one."

Nineteen firefighters across NSW have been injured, as well as 16 members of the community, everything from minor injuries to life threatening serious burns, he said.

More than 100 properties have been destroyed across NSW in an unprecedented 17 emergency level fires across the state.

The partner of one of Cr Sparks' grandchildren has been flown to Sydney, one of two people hospitalised with serious burns in Glen Innes. Another five were being treated at Glen Innes hospital.

Through tears, the Wytaliba resident of 30 years said she fears most of the town is gone.

"All of the community has been impacted,

"I might be able to get down to have a look at my house (today), what's left of it.

"My neighbours are in hospital, they were there when the house blew up."

Glen Innes Severn Council mayor Carol Sparks lost her home in the Wytaliba fire.

Glen Innes Severn Council mayor Carol Sparks lost her home in the Wytaliba fire.

The deadly Kangawalla fire was downgraded to watch and act status on Saturday morning.

RFS advise is that people in the area of Wytabliba should monitor conditions, and watch out for burning embers which may start spot fires ahead of the main fire front.

The fire has burned over 8100 hectares and is out of control.

Overnight a southerly change pushed the fire in a more northerly direction towards the Gwydir Highway.

The Gwydir highway remains closed between Bald Nob and Tindal Roads due to a number of bushfires. The New England highway has reopened, with a smoke warning and advice to drive to conditions.

Corrective Services NSW staff evacuated 164 minimum-security inmates from Glen Innes Correctional Centre to Grafton Correctional Centre early Saturday morning, due to bushfire risk to the prison.

Inmates will remain at Grafton Correctional Centre and visits to Grafton and Glen Innes correctional centres were cancelled on Sunday.

A statement from Corrective Services said inmates would remain at Grafton Correctional Centre until further notice.

No buildings have been damaged but fire has affected sections of the prison's sewage system.

At Wytaliba, the town bridge has been damaged, with the Wytaliba school destroyed and many houses on the west of the town burnt.

The Glen Innes Severn Mayor described herself as a victim of climate change.

"It's devastating, and it's sort of what I've been predicting that climate change is going to have this sort of effect on communities and we are devastated.

"I'd just say to the community - be strong. We just have to hang together and look after each other."

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The fire was terrifyingly quick. Mayor Sparks left Wytaliba on Friday at midday. By 1pm flames were lapping at the door, driven by 80 kilometre an hour westerly winds.

"It was my nightmare that wind came in that direction in that heat.

"There's people that have lost everything, so I don't know (what we will do now)

"They've lost their money, their cars, they've lost their whole lives. They're needing clothes, they're needing accommodation, so that's what I'm focusing on today is finding temporary accommodation for people."

"Thirty years ago I came here because of climate change, because we thought that one or two degrees of warming would have a positive effect on the New England. And instead I've now found out it's a negative effect; it's dried out the trees, it's dried out the land and it's dried up the water.

"We are in a climate emergency!"

UPDATE 8.45am, Saturday: Kangawalla blaze claims life east of Glen Innes

The Kangawalla fire east of Glen Innes has claimed a life, with firefighters this morning confirming they discovered the remains of a person in a car while battling the out-of-control blaze.

Two residents are still unaccounted for, with work continuing in the fire ground that covers Shannon Vale and Wytaliba, according to RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.

He said police are currently doing a forensic examination on the body, including a formal identification process.

"Whatever the circumstances It's awful, it's horrific," Commissioner Fitzsimmons told Channel Seven this morning.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved, all those affected, and particularly those that have lost a loved one."

Nineteen firefighters across NSW have been injured, as well as 16 members of the community, everything from minor injuries to life threatening serious burns, he said.

More than 100 properties have been destroyed across NSW in an unprecedented 17 emergency level fires across the state.

The Kangawalla fire is still at emergency level, and is still burning out of control in the Shannon Vale and Wytaliba area. An evacuation centre has been established in Glen Innes showgrounds.

After a southerly wind change last night the fire is heading in a more northerly direction towards the Gwydir highway. The blaze has burned more than 8,100 hectares since jumping containment lines Friday afternoon.

RFS advise the fire has impacted Old Grafton Road in multiple locations to the east and west of Wytaliba.

Firefighters are conducting property protection in the area.

The New England highway was reopened last night after being threatened by the Gulf Road bushfire. That blaze has been downgraded to watch and act.

The fire is currently impacting Torrington, Stannum and Silent Grove Road at multiple locations.

The fire moved east towards Pyes Creek and Clive throughout Friday. A southerly change moved across the fireground into the evening moving the fire in a more northerly direction and easing fire activity.

Firefighters continue protecting properties in the area and working to slow the spread of the fire.

UPDATE 7pm, Friday: blaze hits Wytaliba, evacuation centre established in Glen Innes

The Kangawalla fire has burned through Wytaliba, with the RFS receiving unconfirmed reports of property damage and minor injuries in the area.

The blaze breached containment lines and burned through the township earlier today. The RFS this afternoon advised residents to head to the Wytaliba community centre.

An evacuation centre has been established at the Glen Innes showgrounds for people who have been displaced by fire.

An RFS spokesperson told the Examiner the Kangawalla fire may have caused property damage as it burned through the township. The RFS has also received unconfirmed reports of minor injuries among residents, he said.

The fire has spotted ahead of Wytaliba towards the region of Newton Boyd.

Fire and other emergency services crews are currently in the area.

Damage assessment teams will be sent into the town when it is safe to do so.

Fierce westerly wind conditions are expected to continue blowing well into the night. After a wind change tonight the blaze is expected to burn into the Barool National Park.

The emergency fire is currently out of control and has burned more than 2500 hectares, since taking off near Shannon Vale earlier today.

Road Closures:

The Glen Innes Severn Council earlier advised that the following roads are closed:

  • New England Highway is closed between Glen Innes to Tenterfield to through traffic. Access may be granted for local residents at the discretion of emergency services. Motorists cannot proceed beyond Deepwater.
  • Tent Hill Road, at Wellingtonvale Road
  • Gulf Road, at Emmaville
  • Torrington Road, at Deepwater
  • Gwydir Highway - between Bald Nob and Tindal Road
  • Old Grafton Road - between Buccarumbi Bridge and Clarence Street, Henry River

EARLIER UPDATE 6pm: emergency fire near Wytabliba

RFS advises the community of Wytabliba to move to the town's community hall.

The Kangawalla fire, which is burning in the area of Shannon Vale, has breached containment lines and is heading in an easterly direction towards the Mann river.

The blaze has been escalated to an emergency fire.

RFS advises residents in the area to watch out for burning embers which may start spot fires ahead of the main fire front. The fire has burned 2500 hectares so far.

UPDATE 5.30pm: Gulf road blaze to head over New England highway

There is a "high probability" that homes will be lost to a dangerous out-of-control blaze that is expected to cross the New England highway within two hours, an RFS spokesperson said.

The fire will burn to and across the highway within about two hours in the region of Bolivia township and Bolivia Hill roadworks, according to an RFS spokesperson.

Those regions are of "particular concern" and houses in the area may be under threat as the Gulf road fire continues to burn east out of control pushed by powerful westerly winds, he said.

"These strong winds are going to remain into the evening and so certainly landholders in that area need to stay vigilant and know what their plan is and act on that," he said.

"It's not really the time to act when the fire's right there.

"They need to know what they'll do. And it that plan is to leave and go and stay with family or friends in Glen Innes or Tenterfield then they should act on that."

The blaze, which is burning in the Gulf Road, Torrington area is still at emergency level and remains out of control. It has burned over 34,000 hectares, and is currently impacting Silent Grove Road at several locations.

The fire is also impacting Torrington.

Fire crews are currently conducting property protection in those areas, assisted by waterbombing aircraft.

The RFS advise residents in the areas of Torrington, Silent Grove, Wolfram Hill, Tungsten, Maids Valley and Mole Riverto seek shelter if the fire approaches and to protect yourself from the heat of the fire.

The New England Highway is not yet scheduled to reopen. Even after the fire moves on the road may be unsafe to use due to falling timber, smoke hazards and lack of visibility.

An RFS spokesperson said that with extreme fire danger rating, the blaze is moving rapidly and is very intense.

"(With) extreme fire danger there is a high probability that houses will be lost," he said.

"Even walking outside, it's very windy and the fuel is very dry.

"It's not safe and if we don't get any meaningful rain over the next few months this type of drought-driven fire conditions are going to continue."

There are currently 17 emergency fires burning in NSW.

RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told the ABC earlier today that more than 1,000 firefighters and 70 aircraft had been deployed to fight the unprecedented number of dangerous fires "to save as many people as possible".

EARLIER 4.30pm

An out-of-control fire has blocked the New England highway north of Deepwater as rural firefighters battle over a dozen dangerous emergency level fires through NSW.

The Rural Fire Service advises the emergency-level Gulf road fire continues to burn East towards the main highway, which has been closed in both directions between Glen Innes and Deepwater.

The blaze is likely to "impact the highway" this afternoon according to a Facebook post by the service.

The Gwydir Highway is also closed east of Glen Innes between Bald Nob Road and Tindal Road.

The fire has already burned up over 29,000 hectares in the Gulf Road area near Torrington, with residents in the area of Torrington, Silent Grove, Wolfram Hill, Tungsten, Maids Valley and Mole River advised to seek shelter as the fire approaches.

The fire is currently impacting homes near the Silent Grove Road at multiple locations. The fire is also impacting Torrington.

The Gwydir highway is also closed between Glen Innes and Grafton.

Deepwater resident Tricia Stack said locals have been texted by the RFS to watch for the approaching blaze.

The Deepwater resident of 12 years said it's the first time the town has ever been threatened by fire in her experience. She said she's worried.

"It's not even the fire season. Our firefighters have been under such stress for days and days and weeks and weeks and it's not even the fire season," she said.

"The wind is diabolical and there's hardly any water to fight it."

The RFS advises those residents to check and follow your Bush Fire Survival Plan and prepare for a bush fire in your area.

If your plan is to leave, or you are not prepared, leave early.

Fire crews are currently fighting to property protection in the Silent Grove Road and Torrington area, assisted by waterbombing aircraft.

There are currently fourteen emergency warnings in NSW. There is a total fire ban in place in the New England region, with an extreme fire danger rating for the area.

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