Death toll rises in NSW as authorities pledge to prioritise lives over homes

Fire authorities in NSW say they'll prioritise lives over homes as severe and extreme conditions again loom over the state.

An eighth person since Monday evening has also been confirmed dead after police found a missing 72-year-old man's body by a Belowra road.

The unidentified man's death follows the deaths of six other civilians since New Year's Eve and that of 28-year-old volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul, who died on Monday in a truck crash near the NSW-Victoria border.

A swimming pool in the remains of a house, near Batemans Bay, destroyed by bushfires.
A swimming pool in the remains of a house destroyed by bushfires is seen just outside Batemans Bay. Source: Getty

Almost 450 homes were destroyed on New Year's Eve, authorities confirmed on Friday, with the number destroyed over the bushfire season now reaching 1365.

Another 100 facilities and 2339 outbuildings have been razed.

NSW faces a two-day total fire ban from Friday, the third seven-day state of emergency in as many months and demands for those across the state's south coast and Snowy Valleys to evacuate immediately.

All people in the 1300-strong town of Batlow were ordered to leave by Thursday night, with the 130,000-hectare Dunns Road fire expected to hit on Friday.

A similar message was issued for Khancoban, Greg Greg and Tooma.

The Kosciuszko National Park should be vacated by 10am on Friday.

Holidaymakers in the alps and popular holiday destinations between Nowra and the Victorian border were asked to be out by Friday night, causing massive traffic queues and petrol and supply shortages.

A fire-ravaged house and burnt-out vehicle in Lake Conjola in New South Wales on January 1, 2020.
A house and vehicle gutted by bushfires are seen in the town of Lake Conjola in New South Wales on New Year's Day. Source: Getty

Police overnight were escorting 100 cars at a time on the Princes Highway from Milton to Nowra, with one convoy halted midway due to dangerous trees.

The highway on Friday morning had reopened northbound from Milton.

Escorts were also needed to get fuel to dry petrol stations in Moruya, a town cut off on multiple fronts, including its access to Batemans Bay to the north.

Emergency services were due to escort petrol tankers into the town on Thursday night after stations there and in Ulladulla and Corryong ran dry, and certain fuels were exhausted at sites in Merimbula.

Very-high fire danger is forecast on Friday for districts on or immediately west of the Great Dividing Range, while Saturday is expected to be severe or extreme across most of the state's southeast.

Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers on Friday implored tourists to leave on Friday and residents to get out of the path of fire.

"Go to a major centre away from those potential impact areas – it might be a large town, the beach, an area that has already been burnt, just don't be there. We have seen how devastating the fires can be," Mr Rogers told reporters.

"We don't want to see anybody else killed in these fires, our pure focus for tomorrow is about the preservation of life."

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Thursday declared a week-long state of emergency from Friday until January 9.

More than 140 fires are burning across NSW, with dozens uncontained and thousands of firefighters in the field.

‘You are watching the destruction of a political leader’

Bushfire survivors in Shoalhaven, Bega Valley and some other areas can access disaster relief payments, the federal government says.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday fled a meet-and-greet in bushfire-ravaged Cobargo after angry locals verbally abused him, telling him he wasn’t welcome.

Approaching a woman with her right hand by her side, Mr Morrison reached down for her hand and shook it, and walked away when she demanded RFS funding.

After a volunteer firefighter also refused to shake his hands, Mr Morrison later said he doesn’t take these things personally.

Pressure is mounting on the leader to accept that Australia must do more to combat the affects of man-made climate change.

Barry Cassidy, a long-time political journalist and former media adviser for Labor PM Bob Hawke, has been among the many commentators to criticise the prime minster as he continues to deflect the public’s anger.

“You are watching the destruction of a political leader and this time not by his own party, but by his own hand,” he wrote early Friday morning.

NSW firefighters back burn ahead of a fire front in Jerrawangala on Wednesday.
Firefighters create a back burn ahead of a fire front in the New South Wales town of Jerrawangala on Wednesday. Source: Getty Images

Earlier Mr Morrison defended his government's response to the crisis saying he wouldn't allow state and federal governments "to be tripping over each other in order to somehow outbid each other in the response".

NSW had not requested military support for evacuations, such as those taking place in Mallacoota across the Victorian border, he said.

Police, meanwhile, say they have begun an investigation into "all aspects" of the south coast fires, including the seven civilian deaths and the fires' cause.

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