YESTERDAY evening fire authorities and residents in the Wandandian and Sussex Inlet areas were awaiting the arrival of a southerly change after a day of horrific fire conditions.
But it was feared the change could bring mixed blessings.
The main cause for concern at the time of going to press was a blaze that originated in the Deans Gap area 12km west of Wandandian.
The fire had been contained after a massive overnight effort by firefighters on Monday, but reignited about 1pm yesterday as the wind picked up and temperatures soared to a top of 41.7 degrees.
The fire was travelling east at about 3km/h, prompting authorities to letterbox drop 3500 residents in villages east of the highway advising them to leave fire prone areas.
By late Tuesday afternoon Incident Controller Ian Stewart said the time for evacuations in Wandandian had passed, and anyone still in the area should stay and prepare for the impact of fire.
It was expected at the time of going to press that the fire, which was moving in an easterly direction, would jump the highway south of Sussex Inlet at around 7pm, ahead of the predicted southerly change.
It was then hoped the fire would track towards Swanhaven, giving firefighters some breathing space to get in and fight the blaze, away from residential areas.
The Princes Highway was closed in both directions around 1pm, but Local Emergency Operations Controller Joe Cassar hoped it would be reopened if the southerly cleared the smoke enough.
But he also said there were concerns the southerly could turn the face of the fire round to the north, pushing into densely forested areas.
Meanwhile evacuation centres were established at Ulladulla RSL Club, Sussex Inlet RSL Club, Sussex Inlet Bowling Club and Bomaderry Bowling Club for people stranded north and south of the roadblocks.
A spokesperson for Community Services said people were being encouraged to go to family or friends where possible.
Residents at Sussex Inlet were also advised to be prepared to evacuate to one of the centres.
Mr Cassar emphasised the preparedness of the multi-agency command centre to deal with the worrying hours ahead.
A staging area had been set up at Sussex Inlet with additional crews being brought up from Batemans Bay while the SES had extra teams in the field.
Shoalhaven Marine Rescue and local surf life saving clubs had jet skis, boats and IRBs ready if people needed to be evacuated from Sussex by boat.
Rescue helicopters were also on standby.
Incident Controller Ian Stewart said that at 6pm yesterday the fire was burning through forest towards Wandandian, but a spot fire was also burning 1.5km ahead of the main fire front, which itself was several kilometres wide.
By late yesterday afternoon Mr Stewart said crews had been forced to suspend all active firefighting as conditions became too dangerous, with winds gusting up to 79km/h.
“But we are ready to go as soon as conditions permit, every man, every truck,” he said.
“The main fire crossed Main Road 92 this afternoon and travelled down the escarpment. It is starting to spot again.”
No formal evacuation orders had been issued at the time of going to press, but Wandandian residents were being told the time to leave home had passed and residents in nearby towns were well aware of the evacuation points.
Mr Cassar said he had been pleased with the response of the public who were taking the catastrophic warning seriously.
“People have heeded the warnings, and they realise that catastrophic means possible loss of life.”
During the peak of the hot winds yesterday afternoon a major power outage affected large areas of the Nowra CBD, though Energy Australia was unable to explain the cause at the time of going to press.
For more information on the fire situation check our website southcoastregister.com.au during the day.