PHOTOS

10 homes were lost and many others damaged in Engadine bushfire started by repair crew's power tools

It is 17 years this week since a bushfire, caused by sparks from power tools being used to fix leaks in a water pipeline, swept up a gully at north Engadine, destroying 10 homes and damaging many others.

That devastation, like this week's blaze on the NSW north coast, is a reminder bushfire danger extends well beyond the peak summer period.

A total fire ban was in force on October 8, 2002 when a repair crew, using welders and other power tools on the Woronora Dam pipeline, set surrounding bush alight.

The fire broke out shortly after 2.10pm and, fanned by gusting winds, swept up to the Thurlgona Road ridge within about 10 minutes, catching residents by total surprise.

The cause, confirmed quickly by a police investigation, was so certain the State Coroner John Abernethy dispensed with the normal coronial inquiry for fires.

Mr Abernathy recommended a number of precautions be taken in future when welding and other "hot work"' was done in the open during total fire ban periods.

Sydney Water apologised and promised swift compensation, but for many residents the compensation and insurance process dragged on for months.,

Rural Fire Service commissioner Phil Koperberg said the area through which the bushfire roared was due for hazard reduction in 2002, but weather conditions had prevented the work being done.

Mr Koperberg said records showed it was eight years since hazard reduction was last conducted in the area.

The Department of Land and Water Conservation, whose land adjoined the burnt-out homes, had advised it was scheduled for hazard reduction sometime this year.

"But, conditions didn't allow them to do it,", he said.

Premier Bob Carr, who visited the area on his return from a two-week visit of drought affected areas of NSW, praised the bravery of the residents and promised they wouldn't be forgotten.

``All of NSW is united in admiring the courage of people who can be here on the street, smiling and looking to the future, after losing their homes and everything in their homes,'' he said.