NSW fire authorities are sifting through the immense damage following New Year’s Eve blazes that ravaged the state’s south cost, with dangerous conditions forecast to return within days.
Some of the worst-affected communities along the coast battled bushfires into Tuesday night with no power and limited telecommunications.
More than 110 fires continue to burn across NSW on New Year's Day and losses from Tuesday's fires continue to become apparent. There is upwards of 200 homes confirmed lost on the NSW south coast after yesterday’s horror day.
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons on Wednesday said there were "heavy tolls" in terms of property damage and destruction, particularly in areas south of Nowra, around Batemans Bay and in Cobargo.
Up to 50 properties around Lake Conjola have been destroyed as well as significant losses in Fishermans Paradise, Broulee and Mogo.
With residents in a number coastal townships surrounded by fires and some roads still closed, stranded locals are being warned against panic buying as long queues have developed outside supermarkets.
— Mick Meredith (@mick_meredith) January 1, 2020
Images taken out the front of Woolworths in Ulladulla in the Shoalhaven area show dozens on people queued down the street to get into the supermarket.
The Mayor of Shoalhaven City Council, Amanda Findley, is pleading with the public to avoid panic buying, assuring residents that there won't be a shortage of food and urging them to only buy what they need given the power is cut and refrigeration is unavailable.
Authorities are monitoring the queues, the ABC reported.
This is the queue at Woolworths Ulladulla. pic.twitter.com/jJSTL6YawV
— Joanne Matthews (@joannematthew) December 31, 2019
Meanwhile an IGA supermarket in Narooma was able to open with the use of a borrowed generator, according to the ABC’s federal political reporter Jade MacMillan who shared a video of locals and tourists lining up down the block to get supplies.
— Jade Macmillan (@JadeMacmillan1) January 1, 2020
Body found in burnt-out car on New Year’s Day
Two men died on Tuesday in Cobargo, to the west of Bermagui. The township had been ravaged by the fires with multiple main-street buildings destroyed.
Another death was confirmed Wednesday after an unidentified man’s body was found in a burnt-out car in Yatte Yattah.
The bodies of two more men were confirmed found on Wednesday afternoon.
Several others are unaccounted for and the death toll is expected to continue to rise on Wednesday afternoon.
These fatalities followed the loss of 28-year-old volunteer firefighter Samuel McPaul on Monday night after his fire truck flipped near the NSW-Victoria border.
"Not only are we seeing outbuildings and homes but we're seeing considerable community infrastructure (destroyed)," Mr Fitzsimmons said.
"We're looking at businesses, halls, there's reports of a number of schools, two or three schools that have been heavily impacted."
Bega Valley Shire Mayor Kristy McBain on Tuesday confirmed dozens of losses in her district after two days in which bushfires blackened the sky.
Mr Fitzsimmons said damage had also been wrought in the Snowy Mountains and towards Tumbarumba, as well as on the NSW central coast.
The fires still burning along the NSW south coast have blanketed the capital in thick smoke this morning, with one person saying it looks “like the end of the world” as Canberra deals with air pollution more than 16 times the level considered hazardous.
1 Jan and travelled from South Coast NSW to Canberra this morning. Thick smoke all way back 240 kms (in places max 100 m visibility where had to where mask so could drive without coughing). Three died yesterday in NSW. Trust PM enjoyed fireworks at Kirribilli! pic.twitter.com/E2Xhtf7ga5
— Quentin Grafton (@GraftonQuentin) January 1, 2020
Property inspectors are touring fire sites across NSW throughout Wednesday and authorities were seeking to clear and open arterial roads.
However, dangerous fire conditions are set to return to the south coast on Saturday with conditions that could be even worse than Tuesday, prompting warnings from the state premier for people to be prepared.
"We are assuming that on Saturday weather conditions will be at least as bad as what they were yesterday," Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
"That is something all of us have to brace ourselves for."
A friend just sent me these pics of her kids at the Bega Showground tonight.
Haunting images like this will forever epitomise 2019 for me.
May the next generation learn and heal from our mistakes. pic.twitter.com/7cPnow7rvP
— Carrick Ryan (@realCarrickRyan) December 31, 2019
— Melissa Clarke (@Clarke_Melissa) December 31, 2019
NSW Fire commissioner: ‘Don’t expect miracles’
NSW fire commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has warned residents not to expect miracles from volunteer fire crews if they decide to stay and defend their home as fires refuse to relent.
“The decision to determine whether you're going to stay and defend your property is a very personal one,” he said, driving home the seriousness of situation.
“Anyone that tells you it's not a frightening and confronting experience is rubbish. Fire very quickly turns day to night. Your visibility is dropped enormously. The noise is horrendous. The smoke that gets in your eyes and in your lungs, it's a very, very confronting and difficult situation,” he warned.
“When people say, ‘I'm just going to stay and defend’, it needs to be a very carefully considered decision, a decision taken by family and loved ones, about your level of personal preparedness and capacity. But if you've done nothing to protect your home, don't expect firefighters to protect your valuables.”
Major risks still remain for Victorian fires
Two emergency alerts have been downgraded in Victoria's fire-ravaged East Gippsland, but a significant risk remains with forecast worsening conditions.
The warning for Buchan moved to a watch-and-act alert on Wednesday morning, while the fire in the Upper Snowy area was recategorised to an advice alert.
"The cooler weather has slowed the movement of fire however the fire is still active (with) a risk of spot fires and embers," the alert for Buchan, Gelantipy, Suggan Buggan, Timbarra, W Tree, Wulgulmerang reads.
"The weather predicted for Saturday could result in significant fire movement."
Residents have been urged to prepare themselves and their properties.
Across Victoria, five emergency warnings remain in place, including four in East Gippsland from Bruthen to Mallacoota, and one for a blaze at Corryong in northeast Victoria on the NSW border.
— Tim Callanan (@MrTimCallanan) January 1, 2020
The destructive bushfires have burnt through more than half a million hectares and lightning continues to spark new blazes.
Three fires in East Gippsland have already joined and others are spreading across the NSW-Victoria border.
The fire that drove thousands of people to shelter on a beach at Mallacoota is about 100,000 hectares in size and has moved into NSW.
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said 24 structures have been destroyed at Buchan, 19 at Sarsfield, 10 at Mallacoota and up to 15 at Cudgewa.
Power has been cut to more than 7000 properties at East Gippsland and more than 1800 in the northeast.
Aircraft including Black Hawk helicopters are expected to land in the east of the state on Wednesday with other aircraft and naval vessels due in the coming days.
The aircraft are expected to help move fire crews, supplies and facilitate evacuations as needed.
Naval vessels including the HMAS Choules left Sydney bound for the East Gippsland coast on Tuesday evening and training vessel MV Sycamore has also been deployed.
Thousands of people remain stranded in remote communities because of blazes.
Parts of the Princes Highway will be opened on Wednesday to allow people to escape.
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