A BUSHFIRE that slithered through Stockton and came within 150 metres of houses has given the peninsula a brief taste of life as an island.
The blaze started in a patch of bushland between Kooragang Island and Stockton around 1.20pm on Sunday and produced a thick plume of smoke. Police closed access between Nelson Bay Road and Fullerton Street for more than two hours.
A Fire and Rescue NSW spokesman said the fire had been burning towards the coastline, which has been heavily eroded in recent weeks, until the wind changed direction around 3pm. He said 20-kilometre-an-hour gusts then pushed the fire north.
Crews set up protection for several abandoned and derelict buildings, though only as a precaution.
Witnesses reported several near-misses shortly before the closure, as drivers ploughed through the smoke past emergency workers.
Amanda Boer left before the cut-off for her 3.30pm flight home to the Gold Coast and passed the flames flaring in dunes north of Meredith Street. “The last time I left Stockton I got stuck by a fire at Williamtown so I was thinking ‘Oh no, not again’,” Ms Boer said. “That was what was going through my head: Stockton is going to be cut off.” Ms Boer said when she passed by, the fire was getting close to homes.
“There were a lot of people parked up there looking at what was going on,” she said.
“There was a wind coming onshore, sweeping right across. It looked like the fire was building up, not slowing down.”
Fire and Rescue NSW had six pumps and NSW Rural Fire Service sent four trucks to fight the fire, which was contained about 4.30pm. Rain started falling shorty afterwards. Access to Fullerton Street opened around the same time, allowing a queue of cars that stretched past the Boatrowers Hotel to leave Stockton.
Rachel Burgess drove past the blaze around 3pm on her way home to Lemon Tree Passage. “You could see the smoke from Mayfield West,” she said. “We were trying to guess what it was, whether it was coal, from the scrapyard or Orica.
“We could see the flames from the top of the bridge and it looked pretty bad.”