'We may not save you': Dire warnings as maps reveal horrific potential of fires

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

Thousands of residents in high-risk areas have been warned not to "expect a knock on the door" as NSW authorities brace for catastrophic fire conditions which will be "off any conventional scale".

The catastrophic and unprecedented conditions could lead to what is feared to be the most dangerous bushfire week in the state's history.

The NSW Rural Fire Service warned the situation is so extreme they might not be able to save everyone and warned residents to act fast and get out early.

"There are simply not enough fire trucks for every house. If you call for help, you may not get it,” the RFS said in a statement.

“Do not expect a knock on the door. Do not expect a phone call. Your safest option will always be to leave early.”

A catastrophic fire danger rating - the highest possible level - is in place for the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter and Illawarra Shoalhaven areas.

“I just hope we get through that OK,” Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.

Thirty-five local government areas across Sydney are deemed at risk, with suburbs in the Sutherland Shire, the Blue Mountains, Hornsby and the Ku-ring-gai regions at greatest risk due to the proximity to bushland.

There are also densely populated suburban areas listed including Randwick, Parramatta and North Sydney. A full list of affected areas can be found here.

A week-long state of emergency has been declared by Premier Gladys Berejiklian, as she pleaded with people to heed the warnings of the fire service and stay away from bushland.

Bushfires paired with strong winds ‘horrendous’

Temperatures in the high 30s, low humidity and winds of up to 80 kilometres per hour, coupled with the drought mean the state faces "horrendous conditions", Mr Rogers said.

According to the NSW RFS, live embers from bushfires could travel up to 30km due to the strong winds, meaning the potential spread of fires over vast regions is high.

When fires destroyed more than 150 homes on Friday, embers were only travelling at 12km, the ABC reported.

"We've just got town after town after town that will be under threat," Mr Rogers told ABC News on Monday night.

"It's a threat that we haven't faced ever before and I just hope we get through that OK and hopefully we won't have to deal with it again."

All available resources will be thrown at the fires, he added.

"We've got every firefighter we can get, we've got every aircraft we can get, we've got military aircraft coming in to help us to look at rescuing people if people are stuck.

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"Absolutely everything we can do is being brought to bear."

The RFS have released a series of maps to indicate the the predicted direction of the fires in regional NSW as the strong winds set in.

The Bureau of Meteorology haa also released a state map indicating the fire ratings for each region.

As of 6am, NSW RFS said 54 fires were already burning across the state and 25 were not contained.

Hundreds of schools have also been closed across the state, with Education Minister Sarah Mitchell saying “safety remains the number one priority”. A full list of closed schools can be found here.

Firefighters are pushed to their limits on the ground. Source: AAP

‘Leave now’

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons urged people living in areas facing the worst threat to leave now.

"My advice is to not be there - leaving early is the safest option," Mr Fitzsimmons told reporters on Monday.

"Catastrophic is off the conventional scale. We are talking about indices that go well beyond the old scale of 100."

Mr Fitzsimmons said fires could spread so quickly in such conditions that people find themselves in severe danger before help arrives.

The commissioner pleaded for people to download the Fires Near Me NSW app or visit its website here.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has said ADF personnel were not trained firefighters but they would be on standby to provide other support if needed.

Hundreds of schools have been closed for the day, with Education Minister Sarah Mitchell saying "safety remains the number one priority".

Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said residents face what "could be the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen".

Two Koorainghat residents assess their burnt down property. Source: AAP

Mr Rogers said places where fires are already raging and are not contained such as the mid-north coast and north coast are "going to cause us problems".

But he added the mission is to "overwhelm" any new fires elsewhere with fire trucks and aircraft so they don't take hold.

There is an extreme fire danger rating - the second highest - in place for the North Coast, Southern Ranges, Central Ranges, New England, Northern Slopes and North Western areas.

A state-wide total fire ban is in place, and there were 60 fires burning across the state on Monday night - 28 of which were not contained.

Fires since Friday have claimed the lives of three people and destroyed at least 150 homes.

The fires in close proximity to Sydney left the city blanketed in smoke on Tuesday morning, with pollution levels reportedly worse than Beijing.

Authorities are warning those with health and respiratory issues to only go outside if essential.

Smoke covers Sydney's CBD on Tuesday morning. Source: AAP

Climate change debate rages on

Recent days have seen a war of words break out over a potential link between the fires and climate change.

Ms Berejiklian said now is not the time to discuss the issue, but insisted her government has not shied away from talking about it and will discuss it at another time.

Nationals leader Michael McCormack condemned what he described as the "disgraceful, disgusting" behaviour of "raving inner-city lunatics" linking climate change to the blazes.

But some of those living in rural regions who have been directly affected made their feelings clear.

"To disregard the issue of climate change in a situation like this is wrong," Cerene Lowe, whose home was among many razed in Wytaliba on Friday told AAP.

Fellow Wytabila resident and Glen Innes Severn mayor Carol Sparks, whose home was severely damaged in a blaze, said there was "no doubt" about the link to climate change.

Queensland bushfires could worsen

While unprecedented conditions push NSW firefighters to the limits, Queensland is also bracing for severe fire danger as temperatures soar up to 10C above average in coming days.

Firefighters in rural Queensland tackle fires over the weekend. Source: Kunwarara Rural Fire Brigade

Conditions are expected to worsen on Tuesday, with high to very high fire danger forecast and severe conditions expected mid-week.

There are 65 bushfires statewide, with an uncontrolled blaze at Cobraball in central Queensland that by Monday had destroyed eight homes and damaged five.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Vince Rowlands says hot, dry and windy conditions are 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 firefighters as the winds change direction.

Much of the state is suffering "pretty poor air quality" due to smoke and Mr Rowlands says "we are not likely to see a complete removal of the smoke haze over the next few days".

No significant rain is forecast for the next week and long-term predictions are for drier and warmer than average conditions.

People with respiratory conditions have been told to stay inside, with health authorities warning people to stay inside unless necessary.


Bushfire threat eases in South Australia

The threat from a bushfire near Port Lincoln has eased, but the South Australian Country Fire Service warns the fire is yet to be contained.

An alert was issued for Duck Ponds near Port Lincoln in the Lower Eyre Peninsula early on Tuesday.

But the CFS says conditions on the fireground have abated, with decreasing winds, higher humidity and lower temperatures helping firefighting efforts.

Multiple CFS crews worked overnight to strengthen the fire edge and put out embers and hot spots, but the fire is likely to burn for several days.

Aircraft at Port Lincoln will conduct an assessment of the fireground on Tuesday, while a Rapid Damage Assessment Team has arrived and will conduct property assessments.

Road restrictions may still be in place and public are advised to avoid the area.

Meanwhile, power was restored to all but three Port Lincoln customers by 11.30pm on Monday and work will continue on Tuesday to check the local network to confirm whether properties are safe for reconnection.

- with AAP

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