Hundreds rescued as fires rage in Royal National Park, despite poor phone reception

A bushfire burning in the Royal National Park is seen from the Cronulla-to-Bundeena Ferry. Photo: Brook Mitchell
A bushfire burning in the Royal National Park is seen from the Cronulla-to-Bundeena Ferry. Photo: Brook Mitchell

The Royal National Park was closed and hundreds of people escorted to safety on Saturday, as firefighters battled two out-of control bushfires near Wattamolla in Sydney's south.

Two hundred people were evacuated from Wattamolla Road to Bundeena by NSW Rural Fire Service and NSW Police in the afternoon, while other visitors were advised to "head to the beaches".

"They're providing the best protection given the fact a lot of the escape routes are through the middle of the bushland which isn't safe at the moment given the intensity of the fire," a spokesman for NSW RFS said on Saturday.

Private boat owners alongside NSW Surf Life Saving, NSW Police and Marine Rescue NSW vessels at Garie Beach had evacuated up to 80 people by the evening.

"There are a number of boats being utilised by surf lifesavers, NSW Police Force and some private citizens that are picking some people up from beaches in the area," the spokesman said.

More than 100 firefighters were on the ground working to control the fires burning along Sir Bertram Stevens Drive at Flat Rock and south of Wattamolla Road. By evening 236 hectares of land had been burnt through.

People in Bundeena, Little Garie, Garie, North Era, South Era or Burning Palms were being advised to remain in place until directed to move by emergency services.

Poor mobile reception in the park was also an issue, with the RFS sending out about 70,000 text message alerts to people in the area of Bundeena and Wattamolla.

"The effectiveness of the warning would have been hampered by the lack of mobile phone reception in the national park," the RFS spokesman said.

"We would love to just be able to send push notifications out to people whether they have reception or not, but the technology doesn't make that possible yet."

The spokesman said a large number of people were still being observed on walking tracks by overhead planes on Saturday, despite the emergency.

"There are still a significant number of people in there," he said.

Marnie Sigal said she drove along Sir Bertram Road near Flat Rock just minutes before bushland next to the road was engulfed in flames.

Her husband and an employee of the kayaking business she owns, both of whom were off-duty firefighters, reported the fire as they travelled towards Bundeena just 10 minutes behind Ms Sigal's vehicle.

"I'm talking five minutes, maybe 10 at the most. To go from nothing to quite a big, decent, out of control fire - I couldn't believe it," she said.

All roads into the Royal National Park were closed and motorists advised to avoid the area, while people in south-western Sydney and the Illawarra were advised to be wary of significant amounts of smoke drifting over the regions from the fire.

The RFS had set the warning level to "watch and act" on Saturday evening.

RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers old Nine News the bushfire was being treated as suspicious. He said the RFS was "very concerned" about the cause of the fire, which was not yet known.

"We do have fire investigators currently working with local police, investigating the cause and origin of this fire," he said.

On Saturday evening there were 40 fires burning throughout NSW, 18 of which were out of control, he said.

The RFS said rural properties in the Alders and Crees Road areas in Bannaby, near Bowral, might come under threat from a grassfire.

The 634-hectare blaze was at watch-and-act alert level, with firefighters and an aircraft on scene to try to slow its spread.

A watch-and-act alert was also issued north of Tamworth, where there was an out-of-control 3500-hectare fire. The RFS was concerned isolated rural properties would be threatened 10 kilometres south-west of Bundarra.

Firefighters are conducting backburning operations in the area and the Newell Highway was shut between Narrabri and Coonabarabran on Saturday.

with AAP

This story Hundreds rescued as fires rage in Royal National Park, despite poor phone reception first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.