THE HUNTER IN FLAMES: Lake Macquarie homes under threat

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3.30pm UPDATE 

Firefighters are getting the upper hand on the Ruttleys Road Fire and putting in good containment lines along Flowers Drive and the Pacific Highway. The threat of ember attack has also recently reduced.

Ruttleys Road fire is now at Watch and Act alert level. 

2.55pm UPDATE

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said government agencies are providing a co-ordinated response to the current bushfire emergency in a bid to provide support to those in need. 

Mr O’Farrell offered his condolences to the family of a man, 63, who has been confirmed to have died from a heart attack while defending his home at Lake Munmorah on Thursday

‘‘We were hoping for a miracle but sadly it has now been confirmed there has been a fatality,’’ Mr O’Farrell said. "I send my condolences to the man’s family and friends at this difficult time.’’

UPDATE 2.45PM Ruttleys Road update:

Current Situation

The fire is impacting properties in Chain Valley Bay. It may soon impact properties in Gwandalan and Summerland Point. There are multiple spot fires along Finlay Avenue and Chain Valley Bay Road.

People in this area should take shelter as the fire impacts. Protect yourself from the heat of the fire.

Community Meetings

For residents of Gwandalan and Summerland Point a Community Meeting will be held at the Gwandalan Bowling Club, Gamban Road 4:00pm TODAY.

For residents of Cave Beach, Murrays Beach and the surrounding areas will be held at the Swansea Workers Club, 9 Rawson Street 6:00pm TODAY.

The fire is out of control and has burnt more than 2000 hectares. Firefighters are undertaking back burning operations around Nords Wharf, Crangan Bay Road and Cams Wharf Road. Residents in the area can expect to see increased smoke and fire activity.

1.50pm UPDATE - Sam Rigney

RFS are continuing property protection along Findlay Avenue at Chain Valley Way.  

The Macquarie Lakeside Village caravan park is at the western end of the street. 

1.30pm UPDATE - SAM RIGNEY

Ruttleys Road update:

The RFS is pouring more resources into the area surrounding Chain Valley Bay Road as the fire continues to threaten properties. 

Crews are expected to begin property protection at Valhalla Village on Mulloway Road shortly.

There are concerns for more properties along Findlay Avenue including the Macquarie Lakeside Village. 

CENTRELINK: CENTRELINK customers who are unable to get to their local service centre because of the bushfires can do so over the phone.

These temporary arrangements mean customers in fire affected areas who usually lodge their forms in person can do so by calling their usual payment line.

The numbers are: employment services 132 850; youth and students 13 2490; family payments 13 6150; retirement 132300; disability, sickness and carers 13 2717.

These arrangements will be in place until 22 October 2012.

HSC: The Board of Studies NSW has advised HSC students in bushfire affected areas to contact their school if they are unsure if exams will occur or if it is unsafe for them to reach an examination venue.

The board will continue to liaise with examination presiding officers and school principals to update information on its website, where this is possible.

This information may change on short notice as further updates are received.

If a student is cut off from their exam centre by a natural disaster they may attend a neighbouring school on exam day if it is safe to do so.

Students should never put themselves at risk in order to reach an exam centre.

Students unable to attend an examination due to a natural disaster are eligible to lodge an illness or misadventure appeal to ensure they are not disadvantaged.

ROADS: The Pacific Highway remains closed in both directions Friday morning due to a bush fire that closed the highway between Swansea and Lake Munmorah.

Detectives from Tuggerah Lakes Local Area Command will be examining the man’s medical history as a part of their investigations on behalf of the Coroner.

Swansea Bridge is open in both directions allowing motorists to cross north/south across the lake.

Other major road closures include:

Raymond Terrace: Richardson Road between Benjamin Lee Drive and Medowie Road.

Heatherbrae: Masonite Road closed between Pacific Highway and Cabbage Tree Road.

Tomago: Tomago Road is closed at Old Punt Road.

These closures will continue to be assessed across the day, however, there is no forecast as to when these roads will reopen.

SCHOOLS: Nords Wharf Public School, Gwandalan Public School, Lake Munmorah Public School, Lake Munmorah High School and Medowie Christian School are closed Friday.

For more information on public schools, visit http://www.schools.nsw.edu.au/studentsupport/studentwellbeing/bushfire-safety/index.php

NATIONAL PARKS: Eight national parks are ablaze, 80 have parts closed and 23 have total fire bans in place. For complete details, click here: http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/NationalParks/FireClosure.aspx

1PM UPDATE by Sam Rigney:

Community Radio Station Lake Macquarie FM has lost its transmission equipment in the large bushfire raging in the Catherine Hill Bay and Lake Munmorah areas. 

The volunteer run radio station is expected to remain off air until they find a new site to being transmitting again. 

The transmission equipment was located at the site of the Big Prawn service station on the Pacific Highway. 

RUTTLEYS ROAD FIRE UPDATE by Sam Rigney:

The fire is threatening properties in the area around Chain Valley Bay Road, including streets off Findlay Avenue, Houston Avenue and Mulloway Road.

People in this area should take shelter as the fire impacts. Protect yourself from the heat of the fire.

The fire is out of control.

Another section of the fire has crossed Nords Wharf Road, however the potential threat to properties in Nords Wharf, Cams Wharf, Catherine Hill Bay, Gwandalan, Summerland Point and Lake Munmorah areas has eased.

There are believed to be a number of homes and structures destroyed in this fire, including in the Catherine Hill Bay area.

Firefighters are conducting backburning operations where possible. During these operations, people in the area will see an increase in fire and smoke.

Only call Triple Zero if you see a fire without a fire truck in attendance.

RFS crews are attempting strategic backburning along Mulloway Road to stop the fire from heading further west out of the Lake Macquarie State Recreation Area.

Waterbombing helicopter are attacking the front of the fire as it heads towards homes in the Chain Valley Bay Road area. 

The latest update from the RFS shows the Ruttleys Road fire has spread through more than 2000 hectares.

12 NOON: HUNGERFORD CREEK FIRE, MUSWELLBROOK by Sam Rigney 

The fire continues to burn uncontained in rugged country, but the immediate threat to properties has eased.

Aircraft and firefighters will be working on the fire, which has burnt more than 8000 hectares of bushland in the Wolllemi National Park area, for the rest of the day. 

11.15am: PORT STEPHENS UPDATE by Matt Carr

HUNDREDS of firefighters are trying to put a Port Stephens fire that has devoured more than 3500 hectares "back in the box".

NSW Rural Fire Service Hunter Zone group officer John Ryan confirmed two sheds had been destroyed by fire but most people had been allowed back to their homes.

He said roughly 200 firefighters were taking advantage of "benign conditions" to control the blaze, with many still working since Sunday's Salt Ash inferno.

Firefighters from other areas including the Great Lakes were bolstering the ranks, Mr Ryan said, but Lake Macquarie crews had been forced to race back to their own areas overnight.

"Given the scale of what occurred here yesterday the work that has been put in by the emergency services has been phenomenal," he said.

"They've been flogged to death."

Onlookers and "disaster tourists" have also been urged to stay clear of the area, Mr Ryan said.

Among those with too close a view of the flames was Darren Watkins.

The 40-hectare property he rents with a mate was ringed by fire on Thursday, leaving just a thin line of greenery unblackened.

Mr Watkins said the still-smoking bush land around his house had been almost impenetrable before the flames arrived on dusk.

Flying embers spread the blaze quickly, Mr Watkins said, taking hold in the scrub to form a wider wall of flame.

"You couldn't even contemplate walking through that [bushland before the fire]" he said.

"I couldn't believe how fast it travelled."

Mr Watkins, who operates a welding business, said he would stay to protect his property in case the fire returned.

Thick scrub remains unscathed opposite his property.

"I'd been quoting to do some work for the RFS but I reckon i'll do it for nothing now," Mr Watkins said.

"They did an awesome job."

9.45am: NSW Police report a Lake Munmorah man died Thursday while defending his home from bushfires.

About 6.10pm emergency services were called to a house in Carters Road.

Attempts were made to resuscitate the 63-year-old man at the scene. He was then taken to Wyong Hospital where he later died.

A post mortem examination will officially determine how the man died

Detectives from Tuggerah Lakes Local Area Command will be examining the man’s medical history as a part of their investigations on behalf of the Coroner.

9.30am FRIDAY - MATT CARR reports on Port Stephens: 

"They did an awesome job."

"They did an awesome job."

"They did an awesome job."

Raymond Terrace man Ross Osborne said flames reached within about 30 metres of his family’s Joseph Sheen Drive house.

The house, in the Lakeside area, is sandwiched between Richardson Road and the Grahamstown Dam.

The fire rapidly jumped a nearby creek, racing through bush land adjoining his property.

"Everything was black," Mr Osborne said.

"All we were doing was protecting the house."

Cleared and manicured, Mr Osborne said he had doused the yard with pop-up sprinklers most of the afternoon.

A real estate agent, he said he had expected the flames to come close.

"The scrub and bush around our place that was burnt ... there was a lot of fuel," he said.

He also praised emergency services workers, who he said stayed near the house all night.

"I’m going to a career day today to tell the kids what they can be when they grow up," Mr Osborne said.

"I might wear a fireman’s hat."

MIDNIGHT: MATTHEW KELLY reports: 

More than 100 people have sought emergency assistance at the Swansea fire disaster centre since 6pm.

The majority are from Caves Beach, Catherine Hill Bay, Murrary's Beach and Nords Wharf.

"Some people don't have anywhere to stay and we are finding emergency accommodation for them, others are sleeping in their cars and just looking for something to eat," centre coordinator Kristel Davis said.

"We can't say how long we will be open for but it will be as long as is needed."

The centre, located at the Swansea Memorial Hall in Bridge St, was set up this afternoon as residents from surrounding communities were evacuated. 

Among those seeking assistance this evening was a woman who had not been able to contact her family from Catherine Hill Bay since this morning.

They include the Roskell family from Caves Beach and their pet parrot Sunny.

The family were evacuated from their home at 7pm.

"It looked like it (the fire) was coming over the hill from Catherine Hill Bay," Yvette Roskell said.

@matt_kell01

11.15pm: DAN PROUDMAN reports: 

IT was the perfect firestorm which refused to give in.

Following an intense day of out-of-control blazes across most corners of the Hunter, a few flames which reached the surface from a burning coalmine were quickly fanned into 30-metre tall flames which roared through south-eastern Lake Macquarie on Thursday night, destroying an unknown number of properties and sheds.

There was no respite –  when the hot and dry westerly, which had combined with low humidity and high temperatures to fuel already large blazes, was replaced with an equally dangerous southerly change late Thursday afternoon.

Hundreds of firefighters were called in to stand toe-to-toe with walls of flames across Port Stephens, the Upper Hunter, the Coalfields and Lake Macquarie well into the night.

For the second time in a week, the people of the Tomaree peninsula were forced to hold their breath as a five-day-old fire at Heatherbrae smashed through containment lines and roared towards Williamtown.

The bushfire forced the closure of Newcastle Airport, which will not open until at least this morning, while passengers were evacuated and prized pieces of infrastructure guarded.

The plumes of smoke which had blanketed parts of Newcastle yesterday morning began to black out the sun as schools were evacuated and major arterial roads were shut for hours.

Several structures were reported razed along Tomago  and Cabbage Tree roads, although it was unclear last night whether they were residences or sheds.

Dozens of people were registering for assistance at the fire disaster centre at Raymond Terrace.

Co-ordinator Jennifer Gardiner said most of those who had registered were from Tomago and Williamtown.

‘‘Some of them are quite anxious because they don’t know if their homes are safe or not,’’ she said.

‘‘They haven’t been back since they received the SMS message this morning.’’

Several agencies including Family and Community Services, Red Cross and the RSPCA are providing accommodation, catering, veterinary and counselling services.

The centre will remain open until further notice.

Port Stephens MP Craig Baumann, who was at the centre on Thursday, said Premier Barry O’Farrell has told him the government would provide whatever resources were needed to assist the Port Stephens community.

The disaster centre is located next to Kings Park on Newline Road, Raymond Terrace.

As the southerly change hit and turned the fire north, fire crews at the southern end of Lake Macquarie were busy trying to save a line of houses through several towns.

A fire which had been extinguished several days ago reignited after flames from a disused underground coalmine made their way to the surface and were fanned by the 80km/h winds.

The township of Catherine Hill Bay was evacuated before brave fire crews were able to save the majority of the town, including the historic Wallarah Hotel – affectionately known as Catho Pub – despite rumours of its demise.

The well-known Big Prawn was also believed to be a victim of the massive front, which had razed structures at Chain Valley Bay and further north.

Rural Fire Service’s Stuart O’Keefe said late Thursday night that the towns of Cams Wharf, Murrays Beach and Caves Beach could also be in the path of the monster.

A fuel depot inside the Wallarah National Park also exploded and flames licked at the edges of service stations.

Mr O’Keefe said fire crews believed they had fully extinguished the fire last week – including flooding old coalmines after it was discovered they were on fire.

‘‘Unfortunately, it has come up to the surface and taken a run for it with those winds,’’ he said.

Further west, about 100 firefighters were on standby at Blackjack Mountain amid fears the blaze could break containment lines about 15kilometres outside of Muswellbrook, and storm towards houses.

Several properties were threatened by the blaze, however there were no reports of damage.

Crews were then sent to Denman, where a massive fire which had taken out more than 2000hectares was encroaching on a series of small towns near Hungerford Hill.

Weatherwatch’s Don White said the Hunter’s conditions had combined to turn into the perfect fire environment.

‘‘It may prove me wrong, but I doubt we will have a worse bushfire day than we did [yesterday],’’ Mr White said.

He said the cycle of four hot and dry days in just over a week was rare and predicted a cooling off in the next few days.

There may also be a bit of rain on Sunday and Monday.

11.08pm:  RFS says the Hungerford Creek fire near Muswellbrook has been downgraded from an Emergency Warning to a Watch and Act.

10.30pm: The RFS says the Emergency Alert for Medowie and Raymond Terrace still in place but has downgraded The Ruttleys Road Fire at Doyalson North   from Emergency Warning to Watch and Act. The Pacific Highway is closed from Swansea to Lake Munmorah.

Fire is threatening the properties at  Pacific Highway and Tall Timbers Road, Doyalson North; Carters Road and Chain Valley Bay Road, Lake Munmorah; Kanangra Drive,  Gwandalan; and Clarke Street and Montefoire Street, Catherine Hill Bay. 

9.50pm: RFS reports parts of Medowie are preparing for evacuation.

9.30pm: AAP reports: Several out-of-control fires are raging north, south and west of Newcastle, forcing the closure and evacuation of the airport with authorities advising people in some threatened areas to leave.

There are also reports a fast-moving intense fire near Ruttleys Road at Doyalson, near Wyong, has ignited a fuel store and caused an explosion.

An out-of-control  2000-hectare bushfire at Muswellbrook was  threatening properties shortly before 9pm.Residents have been advised to leave the area.

‘‘Firefighters are undertaking property protection under difficult, dangerous and erratic weather conditions,’’ the RFS says on its website.

‘‘Residents are advised to leave now unless your property is properly prepared.’’

Emergency warnings are in place for an out-of-control 2819-hectare scrub fire at Heatherbrae and a 945-hectare scrub fire at Doyalson.

A ‘‘watch and act’’ alert, one level short of an emergency warning, is also in place for a one-hectare scrub fire at Glendale that is burning out of control.

A five-hectare bushfire on the Pacific Highway at Heatherbrae is being brought under control, but a ‘‘watch and act’’ alert has been issued by the RFS.

There has been unconfirmed property losses in the area and Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has warned the public the damage would be significant.

The Transport Management Centre has advised people to delay all non-essential travel through the Hunter and Lake Macquarie region with several main roads closed.

The Pacific Highway has been closed between between Swansea and Wyee Road, Doyalson and the Newcastle Link Road has been closed between Lake Road and Minmi Road in Cameron Park and Wallsend.

8.55pm Here is an overview of the situation in the Hunter

UPPER HUNTER

Fire crews had been deployed to wait for the Blackjack Mountain blaze where authorites were concerned about residences along the Castle Rock Road, Ridgelands Road and Hidden Valley Way.

By mid-afternoon, resources were being sent to the Hungerford Creek fire near Denman as it moved out of control and took out 2000 hecatres.

Last night, there were reports that the fire was impacting on properties on Turnermans Road, off Martindale Road.

Rural properties at Martindale Valley, Horseshoe Valley, and Kings Creek were likely to be impacted by fire and residents are advised to leave now.

Properties in the Horseshoe Creek Valley and Bulga Village are coming under ember attack.

PORT STEPHENS

Fire crews are expected to confirm today how many structures were destroyed when a fire, which had been burning at Heatherbrae for several days, jumped containment lines and surged towards Williamtown.

There were unconfirmed reports that property on Tomago Road and Cabbage Tree Passage Road had been damaged.

Newcastle Airport was shut and will remain so until at least this morning.

Further small fires near Pacific Highway were quickly brought under control.

More than 100 firefighters continued to battle the blaze last night

COALFIELDS

Police are investigating a series of fires which erupted across Abermain yesterday afternoon.

Fire crews battled blazes near the intersection of Alubry Street and near the bowling club.

NEWCASTLE

Newcastle Link Road was closed last night as fire crews continued to battle a blaze in bushland at Wallsend.

Several properties came under threat but escaped damage.

LAKE MACQUARIE

A fire which was believed to have been extinguished rose from an old coal mine and took a run with the westerly winds about 1pm.

Large number of structures reportedly destroyed and damaged as the southerly change fueled a fire which ripped through an area from Doyalson past Catherine Hill Bay.

Fire crews battled gamely as structures were lost on Carters Road at Chain Valley Bay before Catherine Hill Bay was the target.

Reports the Catho Pub was razed were proved wrong, however at least four structures were lost at the historic town.

The Big Prawn was also damaged.

8.40pm: Some good news amid the chaos, it appears The Catho Hotel was scorched but remains intact.

8.38pm: The Rural Fire Service has sent emergency alert messages to residents in Nords Wharf, Murrays Beach, Cams Wharf and Catherine Hill Bay.

Residents in Caves Beach are advised to leave now, if not prepared and head north to Swansea.

If the fire threatens your property, seek shelter. Protect yourself from the heat of the fire.

Follow your Bush Fire Survival Plan. If you do not have a Bush Fire Survival Plan, ensure you know what you will do if the fire threatens your property.

There were also reports that Mercure Lake Macquarie Raffertys resort was being evacuated.

8.23pm: Stephen Ryan reports: Catherine Hill Bay resident Sue Whyte said police door-knocked ‘‘en masse’’ at about 6pm and evacuated the sea-side village.

They were directed to the Swansea RSL Club where word swept through that the town’s pub was under threat.

‘‘The wind was really really fierce, but then it dropped and we hoped that that might have saved us,’’ Ms Whyte said.

‘‘We got told to go. The police arrived en masse and evacuated everyone.

‘‘We were hoping when the wind dropped that we might be allowed back, but now we don’t know.’’

8.09pm: Pacific Highway south remains closed to Wyee Rd but Swansea bridge now open in both directions.

7.56pm: Reports of fire around Catherine Hill Bay Hotel and jetty.

7.10pm: Newcastle Link Road has been closed between Minmi Road and Lake Road due to a bushfire.

7.06pm: Masonite Road now open between Cabbage Tree Rd and Archibald Place after being closed due to bushfire. Tomago Road/Cabbage Tree Road now open between Old Punt Road and Nelson Bay Road.

6.20pm: Reports of several structures alight as the Doyalson fire heads towards Catherine Hill Bay. Pacific Highway shut and RFS advises residents of Nords Wharf and Catherine Hill Bay to leave now.

5.57pm: Gateshead fire has taken out six hectares near Redwood Crescent.

5.50pm: RFS confirms a national parks fuel store has destroyed in Blue Wren Drive near Lake Munmorah. There were multiple explosions.

5:45pm: MATTHEW KELLY reports: Thirty people have registered for assistance at the fire disaster centre at Raymond Terrace. (As at 5.30pm).

Coordinator Jennifer Gardiner said most of those who had registered were from Tomago and Williamtown.

"Some of them are quiet anxious because they don't know if their homes are safe or not," she said.

"They have't been back since they received the SMS message this morning."

Several agencies including Family and Community Services, Red Cross and the RSPCA are providing accommodation, catering, veterinary and counselling services.

The Centre will remain open until further notice.

Port Stephens MP Craig Baumann, who was at the centre this afternoon, said premier Barry O'Farrell has told him the government would provide whatever resources were needed to assist the Port Stephens community.

The disaster centre is located next to Kings Park on Newline Road, Raymond Terrace.

5:34pm: Australian Mining reports bushfire threatens GlencoreXstrata’s Mangoola coalmine on Wybong road west of Muswellbrook.

5.29pm: Fire crews being moved from Blackjack Mountain fire to Hungerford Hill fire near Denman. Fire burning a few days has exploded, with the RFS reporting properties at Martindale Valley, Horsehoe Valley and Kings Creek

5:18pm: Ausgrid reports power has been cut to about 1100 homes in Maryland in Newcastle. Main area affected is between Minmi Rd, Maryland Drive, north of Boundary Rd.

5.00pm:  The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) website is intermittently crashing under the weight of increased traffic. A spokesman said the service’s phone lines are also struggling due to the high number of enquiries. The RFS is urging people to visit its Twitter and Facebook sites for updates and warnings. People having trouble with the website can also visit a dedicated Google site which is plotting the fires on a map. The Google site says the information is not in ‘‘real time’’ but rather a ‘‘general indication’’ of fire activity.

- Twitter: NSWRFS

- Facebook: www.facebook.com/nswrfs

- Google: http://google.org/crisismap/2013-nsw-bushfires

4.53pm: RFS reports emergency warning now in place for Lake Munmorah blaze. The fast moving, high intensity fire is burning in an easterly direction at Tall Timbers Road and Carters Road, Lake Munmorah. There is active fire along the Pacific Highway between Tall Timbers Road and Carters Road. Residents should expect extremely hot, windy conditions with lots of smoke and potential embers in the area. Tall Timbers Road is closed.Hungerford Creek (Muswellbrook): A fire is heading from the south towards the Denman area.

4.31pm: Newcastle Airport will remain closed overnight and reopen tomorrow, pending improved weather conditions. 

4.12pm: Council/SES have opened another Emergency Evac centre at Tomaree Sports Complex for those people who are in Nelson Bay. Two centres are now open - King Park Raymond Terrace and Tomaree Sports Complex Nelson Bay. 

4.10pm: RFS Assistant Commissioner Rob Rogers reports that a new fire has taken off near Ruttleys Road, on southern edge of Lake Macquarie. Properties are under threat

4.04pm: Fire crews at bushfire near Oakland Street, Glendale. Also reports of a fire near Gateshead.

4pm: Public Information and Inquiry Centre opened to assist members of the public re:bush fire information. Number is 1800 227 228. 

3.53: Port Stephens Council is managing an emergency evacuation centre at King Park, Newline Road, Raymond Terrace for those affected by the current bush fires in Heatherbrae and surrounding areas. All essential services are available at the centre including representatives from NSW Police, Red Cross and RSPCA.

For live traffic updates visit http://livetraffic.rta.nsw.gov.au/desktop.html

For fire updates visit www.rfs.nsw.gov.au

 3.40:  Pacific Highway is closed in both directions between Hexham Bridge and Richardson Rd due to  bushfire. Delay all travel.

3.20pm: School students who live in the Williamtown and Cabbage Tree areas are being taken to evacuation centre at King Park, Raymond Terrace.

2.20pm: At least one house damaged by Heatherbrae fire.

2.12pm: Nelson Bay Road between Medowie Road and Fullerton Cove Road has now been closed as fire approaches.

1.43pm: The Transport Management Centre advises that several roads were now closed in Heatherbrae, Tomago and Williamtown due to a bushfire.

They include:

Masonite Road is closed between Archibald Place and Cabbage Tree Road.

Tomago Road is closed between Old Punt Road and Masonite Road.

Cabbage Tree Road is closed between Masonite Road and Nelson Bay Road.

Motorists wanting to travel to Nelson Bay from the Pacific Highway are advised to use the Pacific Highway, Medowie Road and Nelson Bay Road. 

Motorists wanting to travel between Newcastle and Nelson Bay can continue to use Nelson Bay Road.

1.24pm: Those residents near the Mt Tangory (Singleton) fire wishing to relocate can go to the Elderslie Community Hall - 758 Elderslie Road, Elderslie

1.18pm: RFS reports Blackjack Mountain fire has NOT breached containment lines. Fire crews and fire trucks are in place for property protection and firefighting as the fire approaches. Bulldozers are building containment lines around properties and Blackjack Mountain

13.01:   Emergency Warning has been issued for the Hank Street Fire in the Heatherbrae area.  The fire has breached containment lines under gusty winds. Properties around Tomago Road, Cabbage Tree Road, Barrie Close, and Williamtown Drive may come under threat. Fire is burning in a south easterly direction. 

12.50pm: Port Stephens Council has set up an evacuation centre for Heatherbrae fire at King Park. Cabbage Tree Road is closed to all traffic.

12.30pm: Police and RFS report there has been no evacuation order  given to anyone in the Muswellbrook or Aberdeen area from any emergency services.

12.15pm: Newcastle Airport has been closed due to the Heatherbrae bushfire. People have been advised not to travel to the airport until further notice. 

12.10pm: A FIRE burning north of Branxton has been upgraded from Advice to Watch and Act.

The RFS reports that residents in the area of Cranky Corner Road, Glen Alistair Road and Bimbadeen Road are being informed of the potential fire threat should the weather deteriorate throughout the day. 

Firefighters, supported by aircraft, are working to ensure the fire remains within its containment lines.  

11.30am: An emergency warning has been issued for the Heatherbrae fire after a wind shift caused it to break containment lines.

The Rural Fire Service said the fire was burning towards Tomago Road and properties around Tomago Road and Cabbage Tree Road may come under threat.

11am: More than 100 firefighters have been put on standby for the Blackjack Mountain blaze west of Muswellbrook.

Freshening westerly winds are expected to hit parts of the Hunter about 2pm.

The fire remains in containment lines although there are concerns that if the blaze just jump off the mountain, properties along Castle Rock Road could be impacted.

Meanwhile a blanket of smoke covering parts of Newcastle is being carried down by a negligable breeze from the Heatherbrae bushfire.

Fire crews worked hard overnight to backburn parts of the 860ha blaze to strengthen up containment lines in preparation for extreme fire conditions expected on Thursday afternoon.

A Rural Fire Service spokeswoman said crews would continue to ‘‘mop up’’ and ‘‘blackout’’ parts of the fire.

The lack of a breeze has kept the smoke hanging over parts of the Hunter.

Weatherwatch’s Don White said the winds would freshen to turn westerly as temperatures soared into the mid-30s.

The freshening breezes should push the Heatherbrae fire smoke out to sea.

There is a total fire ban in place for the Greater Hunter region on Thursday.

For latest Rural Fire Service update go to http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/

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