The fire situation has continued to expand and develop over the last few weeks. Here’s a summary of where things are currently at, and known damage to caves and karst areas. January 19th, 2020. Abercrombie: Abercrombie KCR is open, hasn’t burnt, and there are no fires nearby. However, the area is extremely dry, and if a fire did start locally the reserve would be at severe risk.
Jenolan: Most of the limestone at Jenolan has burnt, and the fire burnt right down to Caves House, which was protected. The Caver’s Cottage, Fire Shed and two other houses were lost on Burma Rd. Jenolan Caves Rd is closed, and there is no timetable yet for it being reopened for tourists. Jenolan is likely to be closed until the end of the month, with remote parts of the park (including most wild caving) likely to be closed much longer. This ABC video (https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-14/jenolan-caves-house-bushfire-recovery/11867212) gives a good overview of conditions (the first 15sec or so is a firetruck retreating from Burma Rd), and the remains of the Caver’s Cottage features at 0:56. No updates on how future caving at Jenolan will work yet.
Wyanbene: Wyanbene hasn’t burnt, but the fire is not too far to the south and east. A high fire risk day with big south-easterlies could still see it burn. Deua NP is closed until at least the 31st January.
Deua and Bendethera: Deua and Bendethera have both been burnt, likely severely. Deua NP is closed until at least the 31st January, and the 4WD access tracks to the interior of Deua NP are likey to be closed much longer than that due to safety concerns.
Yarrangobilly: The entire Yarrangobilly karst area has burnt, but the buildings in the Tourist Precinct were saved thanks to NPWS’ heroic efforts (see Bernadette Zanet’s Twitter https://twitter.com/BernadetteZanet for some videos of how close it was). Cotterills Cottage is presumed ok because I haven’t seen it on any destroyed huts lists. The Snowy Mountains Highway is open, but all access to Kosciuszko NP off the highway is still closed.
Cooleman Plains: Cooleman is currently burning, and there is likely to be no access for quite some time. The camping areas and Clarks Gorge have burnt, but Nichols Gorge and the karst plain don’t look to have burnt. Coolamine Homestead is probably ok, so far. The fire hasn’t burnt to the Goodradigbee yet.
Wombeyan: The first fire in recorded history burnt right down into Wombeyan. Apparently all the buildings were saved at the cost of much earthmoving. Word is a lot of the vegetation in the reserve was lost to fire. Wombeyan KCR is closed until the 31st January, and likely much longer than that as Wombeyan Caves Rd is closed at both ends.
Colong and Church Creek: No word if the Oberon-Colong Stock Route is open, but it’d be astounding if it was. The area around Church Ck and Colong Caves was quite close to the ignition point of several fires, and all burnt over the course of several weeks. Kanangra Boyd NP and the remote parts of Blue Mountains NP are both closed, and likely to remain so for a while (likely at least the end of February for Blue Mountains NP). Once the area reopens, expect access to be sketchy on steep slopes with loose soil.
Tuglow: Tuglow has burnt, but the western boundary of the fire was just to the west of Tuglow Cave, so hopefully it won’t have been too intense. This part of Green Wattle Ck fire is quiescent, but could potentially flare up. Kanangra Boyd NP is closed until further notice along with access routes. There has been a bridge lost at the Boyd River Campground on Kanangra Wall Rd, but this is past the Kowmung River Firetrail turnoff, so won’t affect access once the area is reopened. Burnt firetrails in the park are likely to be closed for some time, so once the area reopens any access would be best from the west via Banshea Forest Rd and Dingo Dell Campground, which was right on the edge of the fire.
Bungonia: Bungonia NP hasn’t burnt, and the Currowan Fire has stopped on the tops on the opposite side of the Shoalhaven to Bungonia. There has been a separate fire on the west side of the Shoalhaven in Morton NP directly south of the Bungonia SCA, well south of the Blockup Gorge. Bungonia hopefully won’t burn, but the Currowan fire is still intermittently active, and severe fire weather could help it jump the Shoalhaven into Bungonia NP. Bungonia NP is closed until at least the 31st January.
Wee Jasper: Wee J hasn’t burnt, but the fires in Kosciuszko NP could conceivably burn northwards, and the area has a high risk of new fires starting. Because of this, Wee J Reserves is closed until further notice, and this covers both camping and caves access. Don’t know about Careys Cave (the showcave north of town). For any other caves on private property, landholders are likely not going to take kindly to having cavers around in the current conditions (this covers Wee J, Taemas and Narrangullen).
Buchan: Still intermittent fire activity in the area, and almost all roads in East Gippsland are closed. No access at the moment from SE NSW, you have to drive via Sale. It seems almost all the karst in and around Buchan burnt, some of it quite severely. The fire burnt right into the township of Buchan, and properties were lost. Homeleigh was saved, but there was damage to other Rimstone properties. Lots of lost vegetation in the caves reserve, and many buildings destroyed. By the sounds of it, there was less damage to the entrance and Visitor’s Centre area, and more over around the Wilderness Retreats. Supplies, utilities and access are likely to be difficult in Buchan over the next few months, so caving in the area is probably a bad idea.
And that’s about it folks. I know there’s been burnt karst in western Vic, northern NSW, and parts of SA, but I haven’t been following what’s been going on there so can’t really comment. Caving trips are likely to be fairly constrained over the next few months, but if Bungonia and Wee J both survive, we’ll be ok for trips (but trips are off atm because of high fire danger and park closures). In the meantime, stay safe, and keep out of burnt areas unless you have a real reason to be there- the bush need time to regenerate. Think about volunteering for a good cause, or donating to the ASF Gofundme (: