Police are investigating the cause of a fire overnight at a Telstra tower in northern New South Wales that is hampering recovery operations in the flood-ravaged town of Mullumbimby.
Michael Liljeqvist, from Mullumbimby Fire and Rescue, said when his crew arrived in the early hours of Friday morning, flames were coming out of four of the aerials on top of the tower.
He said his crew was unable to access the tower, but made the area safe as pieces of insulation and plastic were falling onto nearby buildings.
The fire has cut mobile communications in Mullumbimby and surrounding areas, just a week after services were restored in the wake of flooding that swept through the town.
Telstra regional general manager Michael Marom said the fire was significantly affecting the flood recovery effort, especially as communications had only recently been restored.
"Most of the town was inundated and had lost communication. We had 2 foot of water in the exchange so we had technicians working 24/7 to repair that and restore services," Mr Marom said.
"This is quite regrettable. People are in the process of trying to rebuild their lives and rebuild their businesses.
The Telstra tower in the Mullumbimby CBD has long been the focus of a rolling protest movement by people against 5G technology.
Mr Marom said the opposition had prevented Telstra from upgrading the tower to 5G for the past 22 months, so the technicians took the opportunity to install the upgrade while making post-flood repairs.
Resilient Byron community flood coordinator Ella Rose Goninan said it had been close to impossible to communicate with her 20 team leaders and other authorities following the service outage.
"It's affected me massively so I've been scrambling to get an Optus SIM and switch my phone over and that is its own slow process," Ms Goninan said.
"It's been quite a handicap. I've been communicating through wi-fi calls today but that has kept me locked in the office and I need to be out and about."
Ms Goninan said her focus was on finding a workaround to get her team communicating again, but the situation was disappointing.
Mr Marom said it could take several days to bring mobile connectivity in some form back to the town.
"At a time like this, when communications are so crucial to flood recovery, to have our mobile site damaged and critical telecommunications taken out is reprehensible," he said.
"What is already a difficult time for Mullumbimby has been made that much harder by what we suspect is an unnecessary, dangerous and selfish act of vandalism."