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Fifty bushwalkers airlifted to safety in Tasmania's south as fires burn across state

Wednesday January 16, 2019 - 19:22 EDT
ABC licensed image
Tristan North and friends thought at first the helicopter's arrival was part of a training exercise. - ABC licensed

Fifty bushwalkers have been airlifted to safety in Tasmania's Southwest National Park after lightning strikes sparked a series of fires across the state.

About 70 fires have been burning across the state, many sparked by dry lightning strikes during a series of storms over the past few days.

The bushwalkers were at Mount Anne, in the state's south-west.

Among them were Tristan North and three friends, who were evacuated from the Mount Anne area earlier this afternoon.

The group set off from Memorial Hut on Mount Eliza at 4:00am before walking to the summit of Mount Anne.

On their descent, they realised something was wrong.

"As we were having lunch at Memorial Hut, we heard a chopper come over and they landed and told us we were being evacuated," Mr North said.

"We honestly thought they were doing a training drill and that they weren't there for us."

Mr North described the experience as "surreal".

"[It was] very surprising. We didn't have too much of an idea of how bad it was," he said.

"They told us we weren't in immediate danger, but due to the weather conditions that it was not advisable to finish the walk."

Mr North said he was thankful for the job fire authorities were doing to protect people and as well as the environment in the area.

The emergency warning for Lake Fergus and Great Pine Tier in Tasmania's Central Plateau has this afternoon been downgraded to Watch and Act level.

TFS advised the fire may put Lake Fergus, Great Pine Tier and Little Pine Lagoon at "very high risk".

"Although conditions have currently moderated, a large fire in the Great Pine Tier region is currently highly active and unpredictable. Conditions can change quickly," TFS said in a statement.

People are advised to avoid the areas of Lake Fergus, Little Pine Lagoon and the southern end of Great Pine Tier due to the fire and the ongoing firefighting operations.

The current TFS advice for people within the area is:
If you are going to leave, make sure you have a clear path to a safer place;
There is currently no formal evacuation centre in place at the current time;
If your family has made a bushfire survival plan, use it now;
If you don't live near Lake Fergus, Great Pine Tier and Little Pine Lagoon, stay away. The roads could be very dangerous;
or visit for more information.

More help called for as warm weather looms

Fifty-three people from interstate were helping local teams to battle the , which began almost a month ago, deputy chief officer Byatt said.

"These resources consist of an ongoing deployment of a Remote Area Firefighting Team (RAFT) from NSW (12 remote area firefighters and two paramedics), base camp (established at Fenton Forest) with six management staff, along with several aircraft personnel," he said.

He said a request for an additional 12 RAFT staff plus two paramedics would be "finalised today".

'Dry' lightning more likely to ignite fires

About 5,500 lightning strikes were recorded across the state between 3:00pm on Tuesday and 9:00am on Wednesday, igniting dozens of fires in southern Tasmania.

The only difference between dry and regular lightning is the lack of rain, but that's what makes it more dangerous, weather bureau acting senior forecaster Luke Johnston said.

"Because there's no rainfall associated with the lightning, if it does strike the ground in an area that is dry, it could easily start a fire," he said.

Tasmania's thunderstorms tend to be low to the ground, but Mr Johnston said last night's storms were quite high up in the atmosphere.

"It was fairly moist up high where the thunderstorms were, but it was fairly dry with not much moisture in the air below them.

"So rainfall was actually falling out of these thunderstorms, but most of it was evaporating before it reached the ground."

He said the lack of rainfall can also be credited for last night's spectacular lightning show.

"Because there wasn't much in the way of rainfall reaching the ground underneath this storm, you could actually see quite a lot further than you normally would.

"As a consequence of that you'd be able to see more lightning ... normally you'd see a rainshaft that's hiding the lightning behind it."

Last night's thunder was also particularly loud for a very good reason.

"Any lightning strikes that reached the surface sounded extra loud last night because they were underneath an inversion," Mr Johnston said.

He said because the air on the ground was cooler than the layer above, the sound waves bounced off it and there was no rain to dull the sound.

"You had the thunder bouncing around down low to the ground, so it could sound like you might be hearing it a couple of times."


© ABC 2019

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