Thousands are told to find shelter NOW as bushfires approach – while Sydney faces a nervous wait with ‘catastrophic’ conditions set to get WORSE and the PM warns our darkest hours are ahead
- Sydney region is facing ‘catastrophic’ fire conditions for the first time ever amid 37C heat and large winds
- Sydneysiders woke up to a smokey but calm morning with two infernos under control but it could get worse
- Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on the radio this morning that we are in the ‘calm before the storm’
- There are 54 fires burning in each of NSW and Queensland with up to 20,000 firefighters deployed
Fire danger will increase this afternoon as 37C heat, 90kmh winds and dry air create ‘catastrophic’ conditions around Sydney – as thousands on the mid-north coast are told it is too late to leave their homes.
There are 54 blazes in each of New South Wales and Queensland with up to 20,000 firefighters trying stop them spreading as the Army prepares to evacuate residents by helicopter if their lives are in danger.
Sydneysiders woke up to a smoky but calm morning with two infernos – one in the Hawkesbury and another in the Blue Mountains – under control.
But fire bosses warned against complacency and said the fires are likely to spread throughout the day, potentially threatening 100,000 homes around the Harbour City.
‘The reality is, conditions will simply continue to get worse and deteriorate over the coming hours, and particularly into this afternoon,’ said Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison echoed those words, saying this morning was the ‘calm before the storm’.
‘We’re not expecting the front until the early afternoon around 2pm… it will be a strong wind and will blow its way all the way up the coast,’ he told Ray Hadley on radio station 2GB this morning.
But the PM tried to prevent mass panic, adding: ‘Just want to assure people, Ray, that everything that can be done is being done.’
Fire bosses warned against complacency and said the fires are likely to spread throughout the day. Pictured: A fire near Taree, mid New South Wales on Monday
Devastation: A fire near Taree, mid New South Wales on Monday. The fire danger will increase this afternoon as 37C temperatures, 90kmh winds and low levels of humidity create ‘catastrophic’ conditions around Sydney
Inferno: A raging fire blazes through bushland and takes down trees in Yeppoon, central Queensland on Saturday night
Calm before the storm: Sydneysiders woke up to a smokey but calm morning with two fires – one in the Hawkesbury and another in the Blue Mountains – under control
Horror heatblast: This map shows how much of New South Wales is experiencing temperatures above 30C on Tuesday
How the fire may spread: The towns of Coffs Harbour and Nambucca Heads are also bracing for catastrophe as fires there are expected to burn all the way to the coast on Tuesday
‘The one mercy in all this is there’s been a few days to prepare and for people to prepare and I trust people have done that,’ the PM said.
The closest fire to Sydney so far is the Mount Gosper fire in the Hawkesbury which is affecting residents in Howes Swamp and Mellong, who have been told to leave, and may spread to St Albans, Upper MacDonald and areas north of Wisemans Ferry.
Further north, the towns of Coffs Harbour and Nambucca Heads are also bracing for catastrophe as fires there are expected to burn all the way to the coast on Tuesday.
Another fire spreading north west of Taree on the mid-north coast has resulted in warnings for residents in Nowendoc and Mount George that it is too late to leave.
Meanwhile, police have warned about criminals looting from the ruined houses of devastated bushfire victims in that area.
NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said any thefts would be ‘thoroughly’ investigated, adding: ‘These communities have suffered enough without individuals stealing what items they have left.’
Blaze: A firefighter battles the flames during bushfires near Taree on the mid-north coast of New South Wales on Monday
Destruction: An aerial view shows burnt bushland near Port Macquarie, with some trees orange and others turned to ash
Apocalyptic: There was so much ash on the ground after bushland was burnt in Port Macquarie that it looked like snow
Australia from above: This satellite image shows smoke from bushfires swirling into the air above the east coast
Burning: The moon at over the Sydney Harbour Bridge on Monday morning appears orange amid smoke from bushfires
Map of horror: Weatherzone reported that Tuesday’s ‘southerly buster’ (pictured) will cause fires burning near the NSW coast to change direction
Morning has broken: The Sydney skyline is seen from Balmain as winds blow smoke from bushfires over the CBD on Tuesday
Mr Fitzsimmons said all the necessary preparations were in place. ‘We plan for these sorts of days but we always hope they never come,’ he said on Tuesday morning.
‘We are planned, we are escalated to a heightened level of stand-by and readiness in anticipation of anything that might break out today.
‘All that can be done is being done. All that needs to be done today will be done. We need everybody to do their part.’
The Rural Fire Service urged residents to report anyone tossing a lit cigarette, which carries a $1,320 fine on total fire ban days such as today.
City of smoke: Large winds blow smoke from bushfires over the Sydney suburb of Northbridge at sunset on Monday evening
Firefighters work on a controlled burn in Koorainghat, south of Taree in NSW on Monday as Greater Sydney prepares for ‘catastrophic’ conditions
Escaped with their lives: Lyn and Peter Iverson with their burnt out office and shed on their property at Half Chain road, Koorainghat in New South Wales on Monday
Morning haze: The sun rises behind the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge as winds blow smoke from bushfires over the CBD in Sydney,
Smoke on the water: Sydney was shrouded in a cloud of smog on Tuesday morning amid devastating bushfires
Morning commute: A ferry crosses the water in Sydney Harbour as winds blow smoke from bushfires over the CBD in Sydney
On Monday the Rural Fire Service warned residents in dangerous areas to escape while there was still time.
‘Some fires may start and spread so quickly there is little time for a warning, so do not wait and see,’ a statement read.
‘There are simply not enough fire trucks for every house. If you call for help, you may not get it. Do not expect a firetruck. Do not expect a knock on the door. Do not expect a phone call. Your safest option will always be to leave early.’
Mr Fitzsimmons urged people living in areas facing the worst threat – including the North Shore, the Hawkesbury region, Penrith, Campbelltown and Sutherland – to leave now.
‘My advice is to not be there – leaving early is the safest option,’ he said on Monday.
‘Catastrophic is off the conventional scale. We are talking about indices that go well beyond the old scale of 100.’
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a state of emergency on Monday, the first since the Blue Mountains bushfires in 2013, warning, ‘tomorrow is not the day to be complacent’.
‘You might think you’re OK and a few minutes later you won’t be. Please heed all the messages you receive,’ ‘Ms Berejiklian said.
Devastation: A home destroyed by bushfire in Koorainghat, south of Taree in New South Wales on Monday
The suburbs most directly at risk of fire are near the bushland areas around the city such as the Hawkesbury region and Hornsby in the north, Penrith in the west and Camden, Campbelltown and Sutherland in the south. Fire chiefs cannot predict exactly where fires will be and have urged residents to keep up with the situation which may change due to the weather
Before and after: Clear skies and green trees that stretched behind the bright coastline at Dunbogan Beach (left) transformed into a violent orange, as reflected by the smokey skies (right)
Officials have advised people to evacuate while they can saying emergency services will not be able to save everyone. Pictured: Flames encroaching a residential street in Harrington, on the Mid North Coast, on Friday
Residents across Sydney and NSW are facing ‘catastrophic’ conditions on Tuesday as rising temperatures are expected to aggravate bushfires. Pictured: Firefighters tackle wildfires in Taree, 350km north of Sydney on Saturday
Nervous wait: Wytaliba resident Storm Sparks holds her son Zeke Bacon as she waits to get back to her house at a roadblock near Glen Innes on Monday
Fire Fighters inspect burnt vintage motor bikes in Torrington on November 11, 2019 in Torrington, Australia
Wildfires burning across the state are expected to worsen on Tuesday due to rising temperatures and dry winds. Above, fire fighters are seen trying to contain a blaze in South Taree on Sunday
So far, fires in the state’s north-east have claimed three lives, destroyed more than 150 homes, and razed more than 1million hectares (3,800 square miles) of forest and farmland since Friday.
The week-long declaration of a state of emergency gives the Rural Fire Service sweeping powers to control resources and direct other government agencies.
Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell issued an order to local base commanders to use defence resources in fire efforts.
Firefighter strike teams have also been transported from Canberra, Adelaide and Hobart to Port Macquarie.
More than 400 NSW schools will be closed on Tuesday, including about 300 public schools and more than 100 Catholic and independent schools. More than 50 did not operate on Monday. About 20 TAFE campuses will also close.
‘Safety remains the number one priority. If it is not safe to travel to school please do not attend and inform the school of your intention,’ NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell warned.
Doctors and paramedics have already treated more than 100 people for fire-related injuries, including 20 firefighters, Ambulance Commissioner Dominic Morgan said.
Authorities said the catastrophic fire danger rating is in effect for the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter, Illawarra/Shoalhaven areas.
The suburbs most directly at risk are near the bushland areas around Sydney such as the Hawkesbury region and Hornsby in the north, Penrith in the west and Camden and Sutherland in the south.
Danger: Sydney is facing ‘catastrophic’ fire conditions on Tuesday. Pictured: A smokey haze over Port Macquarie, northern NSW on Sunday night
State of emergency: Fire chiefs warned that conditions on Tuesday could be so bad that it will be too dangerous for firefighters to try to put out the flames. Pictured: A smokey haze over Port Macquarie, northern NSW on Sunday
Raging: A huge inferno took hold near Yeppoon, central Queensland. Almost 50 fires are burning in Queensland with crews focused on three that could threaten lives
Taken too soon: The victims of the killer bushfires
Lost to fire: Vivian Chaplain, 69, a grandmother of six
Julie Fletcher, 63: The dairy cattle farmer’s body was found in the burnt out remains of her Johns River home near Taree on Saturday afternoon.
She had her car packed with possessions, ready to evacuate but didn’t make it out in time.
Vivian Chaplain, 69: The Grandmother of six also died while trying to save her Wytaliba property more than 400 kilometres away near Glen Innes.
George Nole, age unknown: His body was found in a burnt-out car in Wytaliba on Saturday morning.
But fire bosses have warned ‘no area is entirely safe’ as high winds could send dangerous embers capable of sparking secondary fires towards beachside suburbs such as Manly and even Sydney’s CBD.
Ben Shepheard of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service warned that ‘everywhere in Sydney’, as well as surrounding areas, may be affected.
‘The high winds we are expecting on Tuesday mean that embers travel large distances. For example, if there is a fire in Garigal National Park then embers may fall in and around Manly,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
Sydney nursing homes and aged care centres are also preparing for the worst and have been reviewing evacuation plans.
Currently, the facilities that are most at risk are those in Maitland, Coffs Harbour, Forestville and Bateman’s Bay.
In Sydney’s Northern Beaches, police issued a statement on social media warning residents that tomorrow ‘will not be a normal day.’
‘We’re hoping for the best but planning for the worst. The best is no fires,’ they said in a Facebook post. ‘The worst is a 1 in 100 year event.’
Map of horror: A diagram issued by the Rural Fire Service warns of a catastrophic danger – the highest level – to the Greaterv Sydney and Greater Hunter regions as temperatures will hit 37C on Tuesday
Sydney braces for fire: How NSW’s government agencies are preparing for the worst
NSW Police have released important public information regarding bush fires as the state braces for ‘catastrophic’ conditions tomorrow
Chief of the Defence Force Angus Campbell has issued an order to local base commanders to make clear they can use defence resources in the fire effort.
RAAF aircraft have transported firefighter strike teams from Canberra, Adelaide and Hobart to Port Macquarie.
Singleton Army Barracks in NSW is on stand-by to provide accommodation and catering support to firefighters from the Victorian Country Fire Authority.
Queensland Fire and Emergency Service are using Kokoda Barracks in Canungra to refuel aircraft.
Defence has embedded planners into Queensland State Disaster Coordination Centres and New South Wales Rural Fire Service headquarters.
More than 400 schools across the state will be shut, including about 300 public schools and more than 100 Catholic and independent schools.
About 20 TAFE campuses will also close.
‘Safety remains the number one priority. If is not safe to travel to school please do not attend and inform the school of your intention,’ Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said.
A list of the affect schools can be found on NSW Department of Education’s website, which will be updated throughout the day.
AREAS AT RISK:
RFS has issued a catastrophic fire danger rating for the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter, Illawarra/Shoalhaven areas.
Catastrophic is the highest level of bush fire dangers and homes are not designed to withstand a fire in these conditions.
While there are large population centres under catastrophic conditions, there are also large areas of Severe and Extreme fire danger.
This includes areas where we already have dangerous fires burning – and these conditions will be worse than those experienced last week.
A Total Fire Ban is in place for the whole of the state.
RFS is urging residents to stay up to date on fires in their area by downloading the ‘Fires Near Me’ app: https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/fire-information/fires-near-me.
Residents are advised to evacuate as soon as they sense danger as some fires could start and spread quickly with little warning, and emergency services are not guaranteed to arrive in time.
What to do:
- Start taking action now to reduce your risk.
- Avoid bush fire prone areas. If your home is in a bush fire prone area, the safest option is to not be there.
- Do not travel through bushland areas.
- A safer location may be a large town or city, shopping centres or facilities well away from bushland. It may also be a designated ‘Neighbourhood Safer Place’.
- A Neighbourhood Safer Place is designed as a Place of Last Resort in bush fire emergencies only. Please note that travelling to or sheltering at a Neighbourhood Safer Place does not guarantee your safety.
- People with special needs, such as the elderly and people with a disability, should always leave before the threat of bush fire.
- If you’re preparing to leave, make sure you pack your medications, including those in the fridge. Smoke can cause health problems, particularly for people with pre-existing lung and heart conditions like asthma, emphysema, angina or heart failure.
- Avoid outdoor physical activity if it’s smoky, particularly if you have a pre-existing condition like asthma. People with asthma should follow their asthma management plans. If you have asthma, make sure you keep your reliever medication close to hand.
- If it is unsafe to leave the area or stay and defend your property, and the path is clear, you should move to your pre-identified Neighbourhood Safer Place, or other safer location, prior to the impact of a bush fire.
- Be aware that when you are travelling to your Neighbourhood Safer Place there may be heavy smoke and poor visibility.
- It is important that you are familiar with the area. Gather at the Neighbourhood Safer Place location and remain there until the bush fire threat has passed.
- The conditions at the Neighbourhood Safer Place may be uncomfortable and you may be affected by heat, smoke and embers.
- Water, toilets and food may not be available at the Neighbourhood Safer Place and emergency service personnel may not be present.
- Neighbourhood Safer Places are not intended for pets and livestock.
- For more information about the fires, contact the Bush Fire Information Line – 1800 679 737
Bureau of Meteorology (BoM):
A strong cold front will move through NSW on Tuesday, with hot, dry and gusty conditions ahead of the front generating very dangerous fire conditions over the ranges, slopes and coast.
All people in bush fire prone areas in NSW need to have a bush fire plan, remain vigilant, and monitor warnings and messages from the RFS.
Damaging wind gusts are also possible over parts of the southern ranges, Illawarra, Sydney coastal fringe and Hunter Coastal Fringe on Tuesday. Areas of raised dust are also forecast west of the Great Dividing Range, and there is a change that this system will bring dust to some coastal districts.
Evacuation Centres are in place throughout fire-affected areas of the state. The most up-to-date information is available at https://www.emergency.nsw.gov.au/Pages/for-the-community/disaster-assistance/disaster-assistance.aspx
The NSW Police Force keep their Facebook page up to date with evacuation centres that re open. Please monitor https://www.facebook.com/nswpoliceforce/
Motorists should delay all non-essential travel.
Many roads remain closed due to bush fires. Be prepared for conditions to change quickly and roads to close suddenly.
If you need to travel, also make sure you’ve got water, food, supplies and a full tank of fuel. Make sure your mobile phone is fully charged before you set out.
If you’re already travelling when a bush fire starts, follow the directions of emergency services personnel.
Due to fire activity, both man and local roads may close without warning. For the latest information on road closures, check www.livetraffic.com or download the Live Traffic NSW app or call 132 701.
All North Coast Train Services, from Sydney to Casino and Sydney to Grafton and their return trips have been cancelled until Wednesday due to the bush fires. Passengers are advised to delay any non-essential travel to the bush fire-affected areas.
For the latest information on public transport, check transportnsw.info or download a transport app or call 131 500.
NSW Ambulance recommends if anyone sustains any form of burn they should cool the affected area immediately with water – ideally running water – for a minimum of 20 minutes (for eyes ensure you flush the eye) and seek medical attention.
NSW Ambulance is always here to help – never be afraid to call Triple Zero.
AGRICULTURE & ANIMAL SERVICES:
Include your animals in your bush fire plan.
If you can, take your animals with you. Assistance from AASFA is available if you attend an evacuation centre.
For those impacted and seeking assistance for emergency fodder, emergency water (for immediate animal welfare cases only) or animal assessment (resulting from the fires) please contact the AASFA Hotline on 1800 814 647.
NSW ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION AUTHORITY (EPA):
Large volumes of waste have been generated from the bush fires and the EPA will work with local authorities to ensure the waste can be appropriately moved and disposed of when it is safe to do so.
The EPA is also monitoring impacts on its licensed premises and providing advice to licensees about how to manage their sites given the challenging conditions.
The community can report environmental concerns to the Environment Line 24/7 on 131 555.
The State Emergency Recovery Controller has indicated a State Recovery Committee will be established to coordinate the significant recovery effort resulting from this event. The EPA will play a key role on the state level and related regional level committees which are likely to be active for the remainder of the bush fire season.
Keep at least 8 metres away from fallen power lines or objects that may be energised, such as fences.
Report fallen power lines to either Ausgrid (131 388), Endeavour Energy (131 003), Essential Energy (132 080) or Evoenergy (131 093) as shown on your power bill.
Fire chiefs warned that conditions could be so bad that it will be too dangerous for firefighters to try to put out the flames.
‘In those conditions, fire behaviour is erratic and extreme to say the least and we won’t be putting fires out when they take hold,’ said NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
‘Suppression is futile. The focus is on life safety and life protection… The risk is absolutely real.’
Some 400 firefighters are flying in from interstate and 50 firetrucks are driving up from Victoria to be stationed in the Hunter region, north of Sydney.
The fires are producing so much smoke that Brisbane’s air quality is three times worse than Beijing’s – as the smog blows as far east as New Zealand and Vanuatu.
As of Monday afternoon, there were around 60 active fires in New South Wales and 50 in Queensland.
Air quality plunges in Queensland cities as bushfires continue to burn across the state and NSW
A quarter of a Queensland shire has already been burnt in a ongoing bushfire the mayor says is an ‘unprecedented disaster’.
Livingstone Mayor Bill Ludwig says it is close to a miracle that no lives have been lost.
The still-to-be controlled bushfire at Cobraball, southwest of Yeppoon in central Queensland destroyed eight homes and damaged five overnight.
Farm sheds and other structures have also been lost, as about 11,000 hectares of land have been blackened by the blaze.
The fire had been uncontrollable as it ravaged through the area in 50km/h winds and tinder-dry conditions, Mr Ludwig told AAP.
‘It got to the point where firefighters had to just focus on getting people out and then return to save houses where they could,’ he said.
About 65 per cent of the fire had been contained but fire breaks were expected to slow the progress of the blaze.
‘It will be a number of days before we believe we will have safe containment,’ he said.
Conditions are expected to worsen on Tuesday, with high and very high fire danger forecast for most of Queensland.
The situation will be even worse on the Darling Downs and Granite Belt, where severe conditions are expected in a region still recovering from severe fires in September.
By Wednesday, the Wide Bay-Burnett and Southeast Coast regions will also be under a severe fire danger warning.
Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Vince Rowlands said hot, dry and windy conditions were expected to peak on Wednesday followed by a slight reprieve before picking up again at the weekend.
Winds could reach 40km/h during the next couple of days, bringing ‘tricky conditions’ for bushfires as the winds change direction.
Temperatures in some parts of southeast Queensland could be 6C-10C above average.
Mr Rowlands said Brisbane had ‘pretty poor air quality’ due to smoke from Queensland and NSW fires.
‘We are not likely to see a complete removal of the smoke haze over the next few days,’ he said.
No significant rain is forecast for the next week and long-term predictions are for drier and warmer than average conditions.
Health authorities are urging people to avoid time outdoors as the haze from the fires pushes air quality to very poor levels, including in the state’s heavily populated southeast.
There are 65 fires burning statewide, including a blaze at Lower Beechmont in the Gold Coast hinterland that has left three homes damaged.
A home was also destroyed in the Cooroibah fire, which also continues to burn on the Sunshine Coast.
On Monday afternoon, air quality was at the lowest possible rating of very poor in Brisbane, Ipswich and on the Gold Coast as well as in Gladstone, Moranbah, Mackay and Townsville.
People with respiratory conditions have been told to stay inside, with Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young saying people should not go out unless necessary.
Trying conditions are expected to persist for the next 24 to 48 hours.
On guard: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured on Monday at RFS HQ) officially declared a state of emergency which will last for seven days – as fire chiefs warned the infernos will be too dangerous to put out
A bird’s eye view: A photo from a plane over north eastern New South Wales as more than 100 blazes ravage Queensland and NSW
Helping hand: A resident puts out small fires as he rides his motorcycle in Old Bar, New South Wales on Sunday
Ravaged: A burnt car at a property destroyed by a bushfire near Glen Innes, New South Wales – as the worst is yet to come
The Sydney councils suffering ‘catastrophic’ fire conditions on Tuesday: A full list
Source: NSW RFS
Amid Australia’s worst drought on record, devastating fires are ravaging the east coast earlier in the year than normal.
Over the weekend a man and two women in their sixties died in northern New South Wales as they attempted to flee too late – and more than 100 people, including 20 firefighters, have been injured.
Apocalyptic footage showed the sky over Port Macquarie turn a vibrant orange due to the flames and smoke on Sunday night.
Millions of dollars worth of damage has been caused as insurance companies send specialist disaster teams into fire-ravaged areas, with 150 claims lodged by 11am on Monday, according to the Insurance Council.
The body has declared the NSW North Coast to be in a state of catastrophe, meaning that claims there will be looked at as a priority.
Destruction: A firefighter works to contain a bushfire near Taree, New South Wales by spraying water on a smoldering tree
Firefighters from Tasmania are being mobilised to relieve exhausted Queensland crews, with the danger far from over. Pictured: A huge inferno near Yeppoon, central Queensland
Damage: On Sunday a fire truck was hit by falling branches at Nambucca Heads and two firefighters were rushed to hospital with injuries
Climate change campaigners are blaming the disaster on global warming – but Scott Morrison on Sunday refused to say if climate change is a factor.
‘My only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families,’ he said after he was heckled by a protester in Taree where he was visiting victims.
Ms Berejiklian mimicked his stance on Monday, saying: ‘I thought it was inappropriate that people were trying to talk about climate change yesterday when people wanted to stay alive.’
Ruins: A house destroyed by a bushfire is seen in Torrington, near Glen Innes. Dozens of homes have been ruined by the fires
Fires take their toll: More than 100 are hurt by infernos
Doctors and paramedics on the ground have treated more than 100 people hurt during NSW’s devastating bushfires, 20 of them firefighters injured trying to protect communities.
NSW Ambulance Commissioner Dominic Morgan is considering bringing in extra resources from interstate.
‘Over the last few days our doctors and paramedics have been exceedingly busy; they’ve treated over 100 patients for fire-related activity,’ he told reporters in Sydney on Monday.
‘We had a whole range of things that have been confirmed from very severe burns, sadly resulting in a loss of life in some instances, right down to minor injuries and minor burns.’
Mr Morgan paid tribute to the firefighters his teams had treated who were injured in the line of duty.
‘That’s something that we should all be recognising,’ he said.
‘Up to 20 (of the people treated) have been directly related to firefighters being injured while protecting their own communities.’
Mr Morgan said 30 additional ambulance crews would be deployed across the state to ensure additional protection as well as extra air assets.
Keeping watch: Firefighters keep a close eye on a bushfire approaching in Old Bar, New South Wales as they battle to control the blazes
Smoldering: Fire burns on Bolivia Hill near Glen Innes on Sunday. Firefighters are struggling to contain blazes across the east
‘It wasn’t a bushfire, it was a firestorm’: Residents tell of horror as homes are destroyed
Residents thought they were going to die huddled in their small NSW community’s fire station during an ‘apocalyptic’ bushfire that sounded like a freight train and rained down embers and soot.
The Northern Tablelands village of Torrington, population 81, lost a dozen homes on Friday as the worst fire in living memory engulfed the town.
While some residents fled early on Friday, Linda Birch was among those to take refuge in the town’s metal fire station.
Smoke soon crept under the doors of the shed as embers bombarded the vents.
‘It wasn’t a bushfire, it was a firestorm,’ she told AAP.
‘The ferocity of this storm was that immense that we needed to put masks on within the shed as well.’
Ms Birch admitted she thought she was going to die, describing the situation as ‘apocalyptic’.
Residents are warned to prepare to evacuate early and head to town centres and other safe places on Monday. Pictured: Firefighters in Taree
Outside, the volunteer firefighters who were barely able to see a few feet ahead of themselves watered down the shed and hoped it survived.
‘The sound was like a freight train, we couldn’t hear ourselves, we couldn’t talk, we just reacted,’ Ms Birch said.
‘We weren’t sure if anyone survived outside. My husband and Leigh’s husband were outside.’
Jennette Styles said Victorian firefighters managed to save the community hall – ‘the hub of our village’ – but homes dating back to the early 20th century and their contents had been lost.
‘Our heritage, our history is just disappearing,’ she said.
‘It’s an amazing village because we have beautiful people here and we care about each other.
‘We pull together, but we need someone to come out and talk to these people who have lost houses.There are people who aren’t insured or don’t own the property or who have lost $85,000 sheds.’
The volunteer firefighters continued fighting the blaze over the weekend, saving Geoff Hilton’s home and shed just in time.
‘How close do you want it to be?’ he says, looking at scorched earth forming a ring around his shed.
Torrington RFS captain Greg Kneipp and his deputy, his dad Bob, have been battling the blaze since it began two weeks ago, with a few days rest in between.
They were thankful for the support of out-of-town and interstate crews, aerial water bombing and those carting water to the station to fill the trucks.
‘This would be the worst fire and I’m 47 years in the RFS. This would be it by far and only because of the dry conditions is it so bad,’ Bob Kneipp said.
He said the camaraderie of the fire crew was one of the reasons he stayed in the RFS but has noticed young people are less likely to sign up.
‘We’re a big happy family,’ he said.
‘Even when the strike teams come in … within a couple of days, we know every one of them.’
NSW on Monday declared a state of emergency for seven days as bushfires continued to rage across the state.
What does a state of emergency mean?
A state of emergency allows emergency services personnel to:
Direct the public to evacuate an area or not enter an area
Order power and gas supplies to be shut off
Shore up or pull down buildings
Enter premises to facilitate the exercise of these powers.
A map issued by the Rural Fire Service warns of a catastrophic danger – the highest level – to the Greater Sydney and Greater Hunter regions.
It’s the first time a catastrophic fire danger has been declared for Sydney since new fire ratings were introduced in 2009.
‘High temperatures, strong winds and low humidity are forecast, making conditions dangerous,’ NSW Rural Fire Service warned on social media.
‘Catastrophic is the highest level of bush fire danger. Homes are not designed to withstand a fire under these conditions.
‘If a fire starts and takes hold during catastrophic fire danger conditions, lives and homes will be at risk.’
Residents are warned to prepare to evacuate early and head to town centres and other safe places on Monday and not wait until the last moment on Tuesday.
A map of devastating heat: The dark red regions are where temperatures will soar above 30C on Tuesday
Unhealthy: As fires burned in Queensland, air pollution in Brisbane reached ‘very unhealthy’ levels, according to the Air Quality Index Visual Map. The purple areas are the worst affected. The air quality there is worse than the most polluted city in the world, Delhi in India
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