Fire close to homes

WINGHAM residents are counting their blessings after a grass fire raged through back yards.

The fire took hold last Friday near a property on Sunset Avenue and razed a large part of Bill Polkinghorne's well maintained back yard, just 10 minutes after Bill had left the house at 10am. 

Kim Giles, who called triple zero, spotted the fire from across the street, travelling towards Bill's neighbour's shed.

Peter Jacklin was in his shed at the time but was fortunate to escape and assist Kim in efforts to extinguish the flames. Other neighbours soon joined them and fought the blaze with hoses and watering cans, even attempting to beat it out with wet bags.

The fire became too hot and was moving too fast for the residents to gain control and it soon took out the paddock beside Bill's house and was carried by the wind higher up the ridge. Homes on Skyline Drive fell within the path of the fast moving front and again neighbours fought valiantly to protect the buildings. 

RFS and Fire and Rescue NSW crews from Wingham, Tinonee and Taree were on the scene quickly and fought the fire in changeable conditions. 

Wingham's Fire and Rescue NSW captain Dave O'Donnell said the wind kept changing and the front changed a number of times.

However he said most of the residents had well maintained back yards which made it easier to gain control of the fire. In total six fire engines were required to control the blaze that burnt more than 35 acres and came within half a metre of homes. 

For Bill Polkinghorne, an ex-fireman himself, he is grateful for the efforts of neighbours and fire fighters.

"It's lucky I left the hoses out," he said, explaining that his training as a fireman had left a lasting impression on him - he always leaves at least three hoses lying around the yard.

He said grass fires are deceptive and he has seen such fires in the Riverina, on short well mown grass, travel at 50-60 miles an hour. "They're frightening," he said.

Local residents were in shock, particularly those whose homes came so close to being lost.

"You just don't expect it in town," said Kim Giles.

"It has just been so dry for so long, it was hot and the wind just took it." 

Fire crews were still on the scene well into the afternoon blacking out and investigating the cause of the fire. The fire is not considered to be suspicious.

Fire captain Dave O'Donnell said it is a timely reminder for homeowners to clean up their yards and ensure gutters are clear.

More photos taken on Sunset Avenue can be found here:

http://www.winghamchronicle.com.au/story/2058620/wingham-grass-fire/?cs=1551

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