10 Sep 2023

Crews battle large bushfire in the Barkly region, Northern Territory

4:48 pm on 10 September 2023

By Samantha Dick and Lillian Rangiah for ABC

14915103 - fireman wearing a fire rescue jacket

File photo. A fire ban has been declared today for the Darwin, Adelaide River, Gregory South-East and Barkly North fire weather forecast areas. Photo: petervick167/123RF

Northern Territory emergency services are battling a bushfire in the Barkly region, more than 9300 square kilometres in size.

Crews from South Australia have been called in, and three extra fire bombers are on the ground in Tennant Creek.

The fire is burning on the Barkly tableland east of Tennant Creek, about 500 kilometres north of Alice Springs.

Chief fire controller Tony Fuller said the blaze was "roughly three to four times the size of the ACT", sitting between Epenerra and the Barkly Highway.

"We've had large [fires] in the past, but this is the largest one I've had to deal with," he said.

Fuller said while there was no risk to residential properties, some pastoral leases were under threat including a cattle station north of the Barkly Highway.

"Station workers have been working really hard for the last few days," he said.

"They've managed to put some control lines in, which we hope will stop it moving into their property further."

A fire ban has been declared today for the Darwin, Adelaide River, Gregory South-East and Barkly North fire weather forecast areas.

Authorities have been closing and re-opening the Barkly Highway between Barkly Homestead and Threeways Roadhouse based on the latest conditions, which are changing quickly.

"We had one incident in particular with a cotton truck that we thought we were going to lose," Fuller said.

"But thanks to the crews on the ground, they managed to stop that cotton truck going up in flames."

Livestock, freight impacted by highway closure

NT Road Transport Association chief executive Louise Bilato said trucks were banked up at the Threeways Roadhouse and Barkly Roadhouse on either side of the highway closure this morning.

Meanwhile, several livestock trucks have been scrambling to arrange for cattle to be unloaded, fed and watered at nearby stations while the road remains closed.

"Animals can only stay on a truck for a certain period of time without being spilled [temporarily unloaded for food, water and rest]," she said.

"So there was a lot of reorganising and utilising facilities to take off animals on an interim basis.

"But also we need to ensure that livestock aren't going to be placed where there is potential fire risk as well. It's a significant rigmarole that's for sure."

Fuller said some cattle stations in the NT were possibly carrying more stock than usual due to Indonesia's temporary export ban on cattle, which was lifted on Friday.

He said emergency services were working with transport companies around impacts to road access.

Bilato said major supermarkets in Darwin were due to receive orders of freight and perishable groceries from Brisbane and Townsville today.

However, she said alternative arrangements had been made for supplies to be delivered from Adelaide instead.

"Everyone is pretty well stocked and we won't see anything dramatic in the next few days," she said.

"If the fire conditions which are in place now go for an extended period, we will see delays and impacts on the supermarket shelves to some extent depending on what items are coming from where, but the supermarkets these days are very efficient at pivoting."

The NT Emergency Management Council (TEMC), co-led by NT Police Commissioner Michael Murphy, has been meeting to assess the unfolding situation.

In a statement, Commissioner Murphy said: "This is a blaze with a fire edge extending hundreds of kilometres".

"Our thoughts and thanks are with the pastoralists who are working incredibly long hours protecting their property and stock" he said.

"We thank all the hardworking frontline personnel leading, surveying and putting in mitigation strategies to minimise the impact of this large and uncontrolled fire. "

- This story was first published by the ABC