Bushfire rips through seaside town destroying up to 70 homes
Up to 70 homes and other buildings have been destroyed in a ferocious firestorm that ripped through a picturesque seaside town on the NSW far south coast and is still burning out of control.
The 1000-hectare blaze around Tathra, east of Bega, which started on Sunday afternoon was fanned by very strong winds and high temperatures in the state's east.
Authorities began to assess the area at first light on Monday.
"Our early indications are that the number of buildings impacted is likely to climb above 70, but we will confirm that with the work of the building impact assessment teams this morning," RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told Network Seven on Monday.
"It's an awful situation throughout the community of Tathra, where we have damaged buildings, damaged homes, and infrastructure," he said.
He described the blaze as a "firestorm".
"It was raining fire embers through the township - there were spot fires starting all throughout the streets of the town," he told 2GB Radio.
The blaze burned through several kilometres of bushland and crossed a river before reaching the township and is still out of control.
Hundreds of residents in the town, which has a population of about 1600, slept in a Bega evacuation centre or in their cars.
Communication was hampered when a mobile phone tower collapsed, making it difficult to determine how many people remained in the town.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Monday her government will do what it can to help the affected residents.
She thanked firefighters for their efforts and plans to visit the area herself as soon as possible.
"So many homes lost and people displaced in quite a shocking way, I can imagine it is only beginning to sink in and the next few days will be tough.
"I want everybody to know that we will do everything we can to make it easier for them," Ms Berejiklian told Network Seven.
The Insurance Council of Australia has declared the fire a "catastrophe", meaning claims by those affected by the blaze will be given priority.
There'll be no rest for firefighters as the fire "remains very active and needs to be contained and consolidated today", Mr Fitzsimmons said.
"It's still a very dynamic situation. There's a lot of very active fire edge to the north of the fire ground."
More than 100 firefighters working with aircraft and bulldozers are "trying to gain the upper hand" on the fire.
While the threat level was downgraded late on Sunday night after a southerly wind change helped ease hot conditions, flare-ups on Monday remain a concern.
No-one has been reported missing so far.
"We did have one woman to the west of Tathra yesterday afternoon hospitalised with burn injuries and inhalation of hot air," Mr Fitzsimmons said.
Tathra Public School, Bega High School, Tanja Public School and Bournda Environmental Education Centre will be closed on Monday.
More than 22 fires are burning across NSW.