As bushfires continue to rage across New South Wales, there are growing fears that a mega-fire in the Blue Mountains could tear through a major power station responsible for 10 percent of the state’s electricity.
Fire crews lost control of a backburn on the Gospers Mountain fire on Sunday afternoon, prompting an emergency warning yesterday as the blaze spread throughout large swathes of the Ben Bullen State Forest, covering more than 378,000 hectares. That area, located north-west of Lithgow, is home to both the Springvale coal mine and the Mount Piper Power Station: NSW’s fourth-largest power station, and one that is loaded with huge stockpiles of black coal, according to Fairfax. There were concerns last night that, should the fire hit the station, power supplies in the region could be at risk.
"A lot of crews were deployed near that power station just to make sure the fire did not get into the coal," Rural Fire Service (RFS) Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers told the ABC. "We will have crews there today monitoring that condition just to make sure we do not have any problem fire starting. The last thing we need is something like that going."
The Springvale coal mine, meanwhile, has been closed since last Thursday due to the risk of catching fire. Centennial Coal, however—the company that owns the mine—insists that the stockpiles of coal there are protected behind containment lines.
"We are well prepared and well supported by the RFS and Fire and Rescue," said spokeswoman Katie Brassil—adding that "we lost power to the mine last night which means there has obviously been some damage to infrastructure."
If the fire tears through Springvale it could be catastrophic both for coal supplies and air quality. The last coal mine fire to take place in Australia was in 2014, at Victoria’s Hazelwood coal mine. The subsequent blaze burned for 45 days and produced quantities of toxic chemicals such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, spokesman Jamie Hanson told the ABC.
Although the Gospers Mountain fire was at one point burning just six kilometres east of Mount Piper power station, NSW RFS Inspector Ben Shepherd insisted that fire crews believed there was "no current threat". The fire continues to burn on multiple fronts, but has been downgraded to advice level.
The RFS has indicated that it is likely to burn for "some weeks".