Fire crews are battling temperatures of more than 30 degrees and gusts of more than 80 kilometres an hour today, with weather conditions about as bad as they get.
“The winds are really mixing in and strengthening right up,” Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said at an 11am briefing.
Two new fires — at Stockrington near Minmi and Colo — have since broken out.
An emergency warning has been issued for the Stockrington fire, which is located west of the M1 Motorway near Newcastle. The main arterial road is now closed in both directions.
Fitzsimmons had warned new firms could break out, despite his crews being in control of the massive blazes in the Blue Mountains.
The Rural Fire Service has posted this video from one of its helicopters which was above the Minmi fire:
Residents have been told to take shelter as the fire arrives, after the blaze was upgraded to the highest alert level.
Meanwhile, residents are being told that they should leave the Blue Mountains to seek shelter with friends and family or at emergency accommodation which is being made available. Those who do stay are being told to have a plan.
“If you don’t have a plan, quite simply let me give you one: pack the car now, head down the mountain, come down and enjoy time in the metropolitan area and allow the firefighters the freedom to move through the community to protect your homes,” NSW Emergency Services minister Mike Gallacher said.
All schools in the area have been closed and nursing homes have been evacuated.
Watch-and-act alerts are in place for the State Mine fire near Lithgow, the Mount Victoria fire, the Hall Road fire near Wollondilly and the Linksview Road fire near Springwood.
Authorities have said the situation could change in a mater of minutes, and that residents should not become complacent. Light rain did little last night, and there are still around 1600 kilometres of active fire-front.
“The fire area last Thursday morning was considerably smaller than we’ve got now,” Fitzsimmons said earlier this morning.
“The geographic area of burnt country is not necessarily the challenge. It’s how much active fire we’ve got.
I don’t know, no one knows where that fire activity will stir up under today’s weather. No one knows where the ember’s going to be that breaks out across that extensive fire line, so that’s why we’re remaining vigilant. That’s why we need everybody to be vigilant.”
Winds are steadily picking up, and emergency services crews are bracing for the worst-possible outcome, warning there is a very real possibility more lives and property could be lost.
“Everything seems to be going according to forecast, regrettably,” Premier Barry O’Farrell said this morning.
“This is the day people have been planning for. This is the day that all of the effort coordinated by Shane Fitzsimmons, fire and rescue, police, have been gearing towards.
“I’m confident we will get through but regrettably, we’re seeing the wind pick up already, that’s not good for the fire ground despite the dampening rain overnight.”
More than 200 homes have already been destroyed by the fires which have been burning since last Thursday, and have been described as the worst in a decade.
The damage bill sits at more than $100 million, according to the Insurance Council of Australia, and one man has died from a heart attack while trying to defend his home.
We will have more details as they come to hand …
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