One man rang his mother to say a final goodbye while others were left with little more than the clothes they were wearing when a blaze destroyed at least 15 homes in a rural hamlet in northern NSW.
Authorities believe the fire that ripped through the Rappville on Tuesday may have been deliberately lit, in what the emergency services minister says would be a truly "bastard act".
Allan Robertson lost his Rappville home and was left with the clothes he was wearing, his phone and "my worst thongs".
He said he was uninsured and his partner was in palliative care.
"It was just like a massive fireball. There was nothing you could do. The heat was horrendous," he told 10 News.
Police have set up a strike force with Rural Fire Service investigators to investigate the blaze, which is believed to have started in the Busbys Flat area on Friday night.
NSW Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said anyone who put lives at risk would face the full force of the law.
"It really is a bastard act if you are going to put your own community at risk," he told reporters in Sydney.
RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers told the ABC a number of residents were treated for minor burns and breathing difficulties.
He said on Wednesday two fires to the west of Rappville – the Busbys Flat blaze and another at Drake near Tenterfield – had joined together to form one large blaze which has already burned more than 100,000 hectares.
Initial assessments suggest 21 homes were destroyed in the Busbys Flat fire and Tuesday's breakout of the Drake fire, as well as two community facilities and 35 outbuildings.
The RFS says that number will rise as more properties are inspected.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance tweeted stretches of rail line had been damaged by fire, with the Rappville Rail Bridge destroyed.
Some locals are unaccounted for but authorities are working to get in touch with all residents who were forced to flee their properties.
Cameraman Matt Coble said he watched in horror as the Busbys Flat fire came towards him over a hill.
He told ABC TV the wind was "cyclonic".
"The roar of it, the speed of it, was unbelievable – I couldn't imagine the speed of the actual wind,” Coble said.
Casino Golf Club Marketing and Events Manager Stacey Hayes said fire victims had been coming in for free meals, with some of them telling stories of having just minutes to leave.
"One woman who lost everything said there was just a hole in the ground where her house used to be," Ms Hayes said.
"She's got the shirt on her back. She said it went from thinking everything is okay to three minutes later having to be evacuated."
The RFS says residents likely won't be able to return home for a number of days given trees are down across roads and power lines are on the ground.
More than 30 fires are still burning across NSW but the RFS hopes more favourable weather conditions will help them get the upper hand before forecast weekend rain.
Mr Rogers said cooler conditions were on the way for the area, which will assist crews greatly.
Crews from interstate are expected to provide reinforcements over the coming days.
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