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Territory Day fire cracker sparked 'terrifying' fire that destroyed one home, killed pet crocodile

By Elias Clure and Bridget Judd, Tuesday July 3, 2018 - 17:06 EST
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Damian Stanioch says he lost several animals he has nurtured since birth during the fire. - ABC

One home has been destroyed, three others damaged and many of the animals Damian Stanioch spent years caring for have been killed in a fire that was sparked by a Territory Day fire cracker.

Aerial crews were called in to help fight the out-of-control blaze covering 160 hectares of land along Darwin River Road on Monday afternoon.

It was brought under control hours later, but residents have been warned the fire has not yet been extinguished.

It was initially thought two homes had been completely destroyed in the blaze, but Bushfires NT has since revised that figure to one, with damage to three additional properties.

NT Fire and Rescue Service Station Officer Tony Miles said the cracker that sparked the fire was ignited on Sunday night, and the person who lit it was not breaking the law.

"We've been investigating the scene today and we've had some success in determining that the cause was fire crackers being lit and they went into the bushland on Sunday night," Mr Miles said.

"This was a significant fire and it engulfed a quite an expansive area, so the damage could've been a lot more significant.

"It's obviously difficult in this area, and yesterday with the high winds and low humidity, [they are] conditions conducive to a fire of this scale."

It caps off a busy 48 hours for fire crews, .

'Just that feeling of hopelessness': animals killed

Resident Damian Stanioch, who has lived at his Darwin River property for over 12 years, said the fire tore through his aviary complex, killing black cockatoos, turtles, crocodiles and snakes.

He said his daughter Annika came within metres of the most dangerous flames, and was forced to sprint to safety.

"I'm so lucky, my daughter was really great, she saw the smoke and she just knew exactly what to do," he said.

"So I'm really grateful that it wasn't much worse.

"Just that feeling of hopelessness is so scary, with my daughter on her own here with it being school holidays, it was just terrifying."

Among the dead was his pet crocodile, called George.

"I had him from a hatchling," Mr Stanioch said.

"They become part of your family — you feed and love and respect these creatures.

"Some people say 'it's just a crocodile' but it's like anything you nurture, you have that relationship and I've known that little fella since 2004, so to lose him in a fire is just devastating."

Maximum fire danger to hit Darwin

Senior Fire Control Officer Josh Fischer said crews would continue to monitor the fire during today's harsh conditions.

"There's a number of trees and obviously a number of other things that are still burning," he said.

"However, our priority for today with these continuing high winds is to ensure that it remains within the containment lines that were established yesterday."

Dangerous conditions are expected to continue into Tuesday, with a total fire ban enacted for Darwin, Batchelor and Adelaide River.

Mr Fischer said the region would experience similar fire conditions, with strong east to south-easterly winds.

"We're expecting up to 55 [kilometre per hour] gusts of winds, which means any fires, if they do happen to start today, will again be very uncontrollable and quite difficult for firefighters to contain," he said.

"We will see fire danger reach its maximum around 1:00m in Batchelor and around 11:00am in Darwin."

While not privy to the investigation, Mr Fischer explained that high wind and hot weather can cause fires that have already been extinguished to reignite.

"If the embers are warm there's always a chance they can initiate another fire in the right conditions," he said.

When asked how to make sure this did not happen, he said to ensure correct firefighting equipment was used, and if in doubt, call the emergency services.


© ABC 2018

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