The NSW Rural Fire Service is investigating last week’s blaze on Tomaree Head which turned the small seaside mountain into what onlookers described as an erupting volcano.
National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Hunter Coast area manager Andrew Bond said the RFS and police are investigating now that the fire has been extinguished.
“It was out on Sunday morning,” he said. “It’s now under investigation.”
Lower Hunter RFS operational officer Guy Baddock confirmed an investigation, with help from Port Stephens police, is now under way. While firefighters know where the fire started, the investigation is in the early stages and further details are not yet available.
Part of Tomaree National Park, Tomaree Head is maintained by NPWS. About 10 hectares of bush land was burnt by the fire which broke out about 5.30pm on Tuesday, February 6.
Flames could be seen bursting from the bush near the peak of the mountain. While the fire spread quickly, it did not pose a threat to homes.
Shoal Bay resident Nigel Dique said he could not believe his eyes when he captured photographs of the blaze.
“Tomaree Head started looking like Mount Etna,” he said.
Fighting the fire was tough for NPWS and RFS crews as the terrain on Tomaree is rugged and steep. Up to 16 NPWS fire fighting crews worked during the week to contain and extinguish the fire.
“It’s not the sort of country you can put people in,” Mr Bond said. “Ground crews from National Parks and the RFS, with support from helicopters, were able to contain the fire.
“It was a relatively small fire. Size wasn’t the issue. But it looked a lot worse because of the terrain.”
Up to four water bombing helicopters worked throughout Wednesday to douse the flames on Tomaree Head. One helicopter returned on Thursday and continued to drop water on the fire hot spots.
Tomaree Head remained closed on the weekend. Access to Tomaree and the popular summit walk was reopened on Monday.
Mr Bond said the fire caused no structural damage.
“We are very luck in that regard,” he said. “If the fire had of affected the metal staircase we would have had to replace that, which would have required a helicopter lifting in material and a lot of cost.
“We’re fortunate that the fire didn’t affect the infrastructure.”
Tomaree fire sparks access road debate
The Tomaree Head fire has sparked fresh debate about the need for a Fingal Bay link road.
While no homes were threatened by last Tuesday’s fire on Tomaree, the incident has raised questions around access and emergency response times in times of crisis.
Port Stephens Mayor Ryan Palmer said such fires tended to put the community on edge and prompt calls for the link road, both to assist people who wished to leave the area and to help emergency services reach Fingal Bay as quickly as possible.
“It’s all part of the argument for having a Fingal Bay link road,” he said. “With the fire station at Salamander Bay it would certainly help bring the response times down, especially during peak [holiday] times.”
A NSW Fire and Rescue spokeswoman said that Fingal Bay was in the Rural Fire Service’s response area. However, she added that Fingal Bay is within its “response capability”.
“Salamander Bay Fire Station crews are able to assist with RFS operations when required,” she said.
The proposed link road route would bring emergency services across from the roundabout at Salamander Bay and Nelson Bay Road directly behind Nelson Bay golf course, joining Government Road at the back of Shoal Bay.
Fingal Bay residents would still need to exit the village via Marine Drive but Cr Palmer said the link would alleviate the Shoal Bay bottle neck.
“There's still an element or degree of 'one road in, one road out',” he said.
“How much help it provides in an evacuation depends on nature of the fire and the direction it's travelling, so it might give people the option to get out faster.”
Cr Palmer said he was eager to see it built.
“The project is wholey and soley dependent on two things; firstly the Worimi giving it their approval and secondly getting some funding,” he said.