Fourth person found dead as fierce bushfires continue to burn

A fourth person has died from bushfires ravaging Australia’s east after his body was found northwest of Kempsey on NSW's Mid North Coast.

The man's body was found in bushland on the southern end of the Kyuna Track at Willawarrin shortly before midnight on Wednesday. He is yet to be formally identified but is believed to be the body of a 58-year-old who lived nearby.

The man, who lived in a shed, had not been seen since Friday.

Fire crews seen preparing to put in containment lines at the Gospers Mountain fire near Colo Heights, north west of Sydney on Wednesday. Source: AAP

His death comes after those of Julie Fletcher, who died in Johns River on Saturday, and Vivian Chaplain and George Nole of Wytaliba.

Ms Fletcher's body was discovered in a Johns River home, some 40 kilometres north of Taree, after fires swept through the area on Saturday afternoon.

The elderly Mr Nole was found in Wytaliba in a burnt-out car, while Ms Chaplain, 69, was treated for burns and transferred to a Sydney hospital but later died.

A post-mortem examination will be conducted to determine the cause of death and confirm the identity of the latest man found.

NSW firefighters ‘in for the long haul’

Better weather conditions in NSW have had little effect on aggressive fire behaviour around the state as fatigued firefighters continue to focus on the crisis in the rural north.

As of 10am on Tuesday, 56 fires were burning around NSW, with 24 not contained and eight currently at "watch and act" level.

A total fire ban declared for NSW earlier this week has now lapsed. But Rural Fire Service NSW Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said the passing of Tuesday's "catastrophic" fire warning day had not made battling blazes any easier.

Children's play equipment is seen on a property destroyed by bushfire outside of Glenreagh, near Coffs Harbour Wednesday. Source: AAP

"We had a better day yesterday, only one fire got to emergency warning, but even in these pretty benign conditions we're seeing quite a lot of aggressive fire behaviour simply because it's so dry," Mr Rogers told the Seven Network.

"Conditions starting to warm up tomorrow, into the weekend and then heating up early next week, a return to more gusty conditions. We're in for the long haul."

The RFS has confirmed at least 50 homes were damaged or destroyed on Tuesday, but there were no fatalities on a day of catastrophic conditions in the Sydney, Hunter and Illawarra-Shoalhaven regions.

Mr Rogers said fires in the Mid North Coast areas such as Taree, Port Macquarie, Kempsey and Coffs Harbour were proving hard to control, as well as a blaze near Lithgow in the Blue Mountains.

More than 1000 firefighters remain in the field to protect properties and establish containment lines ahead of worsening conditions later this week.

About 55 schools will remain closed in fire-affected areas.

The Insurance Council of Australia on Wednesday said insurers had received 450 claim applications, with initial losses totalling $50 million. 

Sharnie Moren and her 18-month-old daughter Charlotte look on as thick smoke rises from bushfires near Nana Glen, near Coffs Harbour, on Tuesday. Source: AAP/Dan Peled

Suspected arsonist nabbed by helicopter

Meanwhile, a suspected arsonist has reportedly been arrested after an army Black Hawk helicopter chased him through Sydney's Royal National Park.

The 6th Aviation Regiment unit was returning to Holsworthy base on Wednesday after helping in the bushfire effort in the Blue Mountains when they saw a man acting suspiciously, The Daily Telegraph reported.

The crew alerted police and kept the man in sight, flying low over bushland to find his hiding place. 

NSW Police are yet to confirm the details.

Queensland bushfire threat to worsen by weekend

At 11am on Thursday, there were 78 bushfires burning across Queensland, six of which were at “watch and act” level.

Residents of two northern Queensland towns near Gympie and Bundaberg were earlier told to leave now as bushfires in the areas worsen.

The alerts were issued for Black Snake, in the Gympie region and Woodgate, south of Bundaberg early on Thursday morning.

Fire conditions in both areas deteriorated overnight and aren't expected to improve in the near term, the Queensland Fire and Emergency Services said.

In Black Snake, fire crews are trying to strengthen containment lines while conducting back-burning operations ahead of a slow-moving fire heading in a south-easterly direction towards Thornside Road.

Conditions there are getting worse.

Rural firefighters prepare for another exhausting day at Spicers Gap, south west of Brisbane yesterday. Source: AAP

"The fire could have a significant impact on the community," the QFES said and warned power, water and mobile phone services could be lost.

Residents of Woodgate have been told their safest option is to leave now as a fire travels toward Walkers Point Road.

"Fire crews will be working to contain the fire, but firefighters may not be able to protect every property" the QFES said.

An evacuation centre has been set up at the Isis Cultural Centre in Childers.

Meanwhile, people in Kinkuna Waters, which is near Woodgate, are also on alert in case they have to leave suddenly.

More than 70 fires are now burning across the state since the current crisis erupted a week ago.

While authorities keep a close eye on Woodgate, Black Snake and Noosa North Shore on Thursday, firefighters will make the most of a brief respite in the weather to strengthen containment lines. 

On Wednesday, residents and holidaymakers clambered onto boats to flee the Noosa North Shore blaze. 

QFES assistant commissioner Tony Johnstone said more than a dozen aircraft were being readied to bring a number of fires under control while moist coastal winds bring a short-lived relief on Thursday. 

Strong winds on Friday to fuel bushfires

That relief won't last long though, with forecasters expecting westerly winds to dominate conditions on Friday as the fire threat intensifies.

The weather bureau warns the westerlies will push extremely dry air back towards the coastal fringe.

"We would expect to see the maximum temperature quickly return to four-to-eight degrees above the November average on Friday and into the weekend," a spokeswoman said.

"When we combine that with the dry air, we expect to see elevated fire dangers once again as we head toward the weekend."

A large fire is still burning in difficult terrain near the five-star Spicers Peak Lodge on the Southern Downs, but it is not directly impacting properties.

There are a number of fires between Brisbane and the NSW border, including in the Scenic Rim west of the Gold Coast, and a blaze in Cobraball near Yeppoon in central Queensland, where 14 homes have been destroyed.

Former fire chief points to climate change

Lee Johnson, former Queensland Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner, on Friday said the bushfire season that has razed homes and hundreds of thousands of hectares of land was like nothing he'd seen in his decades-long career. 

"I'm here for my children and my grandchildren, because I am fundamentally concerned about the impact and the damage coming from climate change," he said. 

"There's something going on, and climate change are exacerbating the dry conditions we are all experiencing."

Mr Johnson warned conditions would remain extreme through the summer without significant rain. 

There is no rain forecast until early next year. 

"In Queensland alone, without speaking for the rest of the country, we need hundreds of millimetres of rain to bring the risk back to something like normal," Mr Johnson added. 

"So our conditions are very much abnormal and driven very much by what's happening in our atmosphere, and that influenced by greenhouse gases."

With AAP

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