Major Blazes Merge As Canberra Airport Closed, Residents Told It's Too Late To Leave
Canberra Airport was closed and a number of arriving and departing flights cancelled, as communities in and around the nation's capital were threatened by multiple out-of-control bushfires.
Two major fires merged in the ACT on Thursday afternoon, threatening lives in a number of areas.
Just before 3pm, the Emergency Services Agency (ESA) said the Kallaroo Fire and the Pialligo Redwood Forest Fire had merged and were burning at emergency level.
Authorities said the fire, now called the Beard Fire, was difficult to control under current conditions, with thick smoke and embers also reducing visibility and air quality in the area.
The blaze was later downgraded to a watch and act alert with some areas told to evacuate, before being downgraded again to an advice level just before 9pm as firefighters managed to gain the upper hand.
The ESA said people were being allowed to return to the area with properties no longer under threat.
"The fire is being controlled within containment lines and firefighters are on scene," the ESA said.
"People in the area may be affected by smoke, which could reduce visibility and air quality."
The bushfires in the nation's capital had earlier forced the airport to close around lunchtime, grounding a number of flights.
While the airport was not evacuated, those who had plans to fly were encouraged to contact their airline for further information.
A spokeswoman for Virgin Airlines told 10daily two flights had been diverted to Sydney, and all affected passengers would be offered alternative flights when the airspace reopened.
"Bushfires in the vicinity of Canberra Airport have resulted in the closure of the airspace, and Virgin Australia has subsequently diverted two flights – VA640 Sydney to Canberra, and VA1210 Brisbane to Canberra – to Sydney," she said.
At 5pm Tiger Air, Virgin Austalia and Singapore Airlines confirmed all flights would be cancelled for the remainder of the day from Canberra Airport.
A Qantas spokesperson told 10 daily its flights had resumed in and out of Canberra Airport.
The Beard fire also began impacting a recycling plan near Queanbeyan on Thursday afternoon, with "dangerous levels" of toxic black smoke seen spreading through the area.
The ESA said there were unconfirmed reports of building damage.
Residents in the area were told to stay inside with their windows and doors shut and to turn off air conditioning and evaporative coolers.