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There are fears two huge bushfires could merge causing chaos as the NSW Government announces a state of emergency that will run beyond Christmas Day.
Dangerous fire conditions are threatening large parts of the state as up to 100 bushfires rage and communities prepare for a day of high temperatures.
The NSW Rural Fire Service has extreme fire danger warnings in place for the Greater Sydney, Illawarra and Shoalhaven and Southern Ranges areas.
There’s also concern the Gospers Mountain fire northwest of Sydney, which has covered 410,000 hectares, could combine with the Green Wattle Creek blaze southwest of the CBD. Two weeks ago, the Gospers Mountain fire merged with two others – at that stage it was covering 250,000ha.
The Green Wattle Creek blaze is covering more than 156,000ha with the Ruined Castle fire sitting between it and Gospers Mountain.
On Thursday afternoon, the RFS said the Green Wattle Creek fire had crossed the railway line near Balmoral and advised people there - as well as in Buxton, Couridjah, Thirlmere, Tahmoor, Bargo and Yanderra - it is too late to leave.
Three homes in the Balmoral area have been destroyed, the ABC reports.
Very dangerous conditions expected on Saturday
Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said fire behaviour would be erratic due to volatile winds. He doesn’t expect conditions to improve over the weekend either.
"Whilst today is going to be a very bad day, dangerous day here in NSW, the forecast is that Saturday will be even worse, so we're talking about very dangerous conditions over the coming days," he said.
"We have sought the support of the premier in ensuring we have invoked the highest level of instrument available in the state to ensure the fullest level of co-operation and integration between the multi-agency, whole-of-government team effort."
A statewide total fire ban announced on Tuesday will remain in place until at least midnight on Saturday.
Mr Fitzsimmons said the main concern on Thursday would be fires surrounding Ulladulla and Batemans Bay on the south coast, particularly the 100,000-hectare Currowan fire, as well as blazes behind the Warragamba Dam.
At 10am there are 97 fires burning in NSW. 50 are not contained, 3 are at Watch and Act. 1,700 personnel are in the field. There are extremely hot conditions over the firegrounds with strong winds. Stay up to day https://t.co/2KraQWO8Td#nswrfs #nswfires pic.twitter.com/lUCaJOjRff
— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 18, 2019
South coast holiday spots under threat
Several popular south coast holiday spots are under threat. The Tianjara fire burning east towards Hyams Beach, near Jervis Bay is spreading rapidly.
People in Sussex Inlet, Swan Haven, Cudmirrah & Berrara have been warned to be on alert and that the Princes Highway may be closed.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has warned people planning to head to the north and south coasts for the holidays to research what danger their destinations are facing.
“Please be clear what your plans are,” the premier said.
“Please make sure you are prepared to change your plans should circumstances change.”
NSW state of emergency declared for seven days
After announcing the second state of emergency of the fire season, Ms Berejiklian says residents need to follow the advice of authorities over the next week, with extra diversions and road closures to be installed, and revise their Christmas plans.
The last state of emergency, which also ran for seven days in mid-November amid "catastrophic" fire risk, was the first implemented in NSW since 2013.
The state of emergency allows powers to be transferred from the government to Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, including the ability to control and co-ordinate the allocation of resources and evacuate people from property within a declared area.
Mr Fitzsimmons will also be able to direct any NSW government agency to conduct or refrain from conducting its functions.
"The decision to declare a state of emergency is not taken lightly. It normally only goes for seven days and you have to make sure conditions are serious enough for that declaration to be made," Ms Berejiklian told reporters on Thursday morning.
"You can't afford for people to be complacent. You only declare states of emergency when it's absolutely necessary and on expert advice."
Potential for Gospers Mountain and Green Wattle fires to merge
The huge Gospers Mountain fire continues to burn out of control on multiple fronts in the Wollemi National park.
It’s on a watch and act level on Thursday morning but there was no immediate threat to property.
NSW RFS spokesperson Cathie Moore told Yahoo News Australia there’s potential for the Green Wattle Creek blaze to merge with the Ruined Castle fire which is burning south.
The Ruined Castle fire currently remains under control but sits between the Green Wattle and Gospers Mountain blazes.
“As we’ve seen over the last couple of days the Gospers Mountain fire does increase in activity in the southern part at about 3-4pm,” she said.
The Bureau of Meteorology expects most of inland NSW will see temperatures in the mid 40s while areas west of the Sydney CBD are expected to 45 degrees.
Of the fires burning around the state, more than half are uncontained.
Mr Fitzsimmons said Australian Defence Force aircraft, logistics and operations expertise would be put to use fighting fires on Thursday.
"As the premier has quite rightly indicated, we know this is a precious time of year for families to connect and unite and spend time with one another but I would really reinforce the message of the premier to re-evaluate, consider and assess your travel options," Mr Fitzsimmons said.
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