By James Wilkinson
Hotels in the New South Wales Blue Mountains remain on high alert today (Oct 23) as bushfires continue to rage in the region in what are being described as catastrophic conditions by government authorities.
Across the Blue Mountains, one of the state’s most popular tourist areas, major attractions are closed and people are being told to avoid the area unless the travel is essential.
Luxury resort Emirates Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, which is in close proximity to the fire that’s broken out in Lithgow, is one of Australia’s leading properties and General Manager Joost Heymeijer told HM “it’s hairy here, but we’re prepared”.
“We are lucky to be on the western side of the fires, although the Lithgow fire is directly connected with us here,” he said.
“There is no fire break – just the wind blowing it east – and it’s very hot and windy here today.
“We are very well prepared with fire teams on standby. We have asset protection zones in place and we have slashed a wide perimeter around the resort and emergency procedures [have been] tested.
“Our main building is the safest building, where both internal and external can be ‘sprinklered’.
“We have an internal emergency response team of 20 people who are on standby at all times,” he told HM.
Accor’s two hotels in the region also remain on high alert, the company’s Regional General Manager – NSW/ACT, Scott Boyes, told HM.
“Our teams have been working closely with the NSW Rural Fire Service and emergency workers as the Blue Mountains fire emergency continues,” he said.
“Our two properties in the area, The Fairmont Resort and The Sebel Resort Hawkesbury Valley, remain on high alert and emergency fire plans are in place.
“Our hotels are in no immediate danger, but as weather conditions continue to worsen we have increased the management presence in our hotels and we are currently handling each guest cancellation on a case by case basis and have a cancellation policy at the ready.
“We have a dedicated staff member working in conjunction with the NSW RFS and their logistics unit to accommodate fire-fighters in and around the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains area.
“Accor is assisting the community in any way we can, with Fairmont Resort MGallery rallying together two pallets of ration packs which were distributed to the Katoomba Emergency Control Centre, while we have been catering for up to 250 SES volunteers for lunch and dinner.
“Our teams are also preparing personal amenity items such as shampoos, tooth brushes, toothpaste to go into personal care packs, which are being coordinated by external volunteers.
“We are not aware of any major losses for any staff members at this stage but many are extremely stressed for either their own properties or those of immediate family and friends as weather conditions continue to worsen.
“While this is a distressing situation for The Fairmont and Sebel Hawkesbury hotel teams, they are uniting to support the local community and those affected by the fires by providing shelter, bottled water, non-perishable foods and towels.
“We will continue to follow our emergency plan and remain in close contact with the NSW RFS and incoming emergency personnel,” Boyes said.
Last night (Oct 22), Blue Mountains Lithgow and Oberon Tourism (BMLOT) chairman Randall Walker said tourism operators should tell visitors not to visit the region today.
“The risks we face over the coming days should not be underestimated,” he said. “It is our paramount mission to ensure that no visitors to our region are injured due to bushfires.
He said BMLOT has recommended to accommodation providers that bookings be deferred until the situation is controlled.
At this stage, national and state parks and reserves are closed and only a handful of lookouts remain open in unaffected areas, including Wentworth Falls, Leura and Katoomba.
Major tourism businesses in Wentworth Falls, Leura and Katoomba remain open, as are the Blue Mountains City Council Visitor Information Centres at Echo Point, Katoomba, and Glenbrook.
All are on standby should the fire threat escalate.
Stay tuned to HM for more updates as they come to hand.