Streets of homes have been razed in the Blue Mountains and hundreds of residents have spent the night in evacuation centres after about 100 fires ravaged the state on Thursday in the worst bushfire emergency in more than a decade.
It has to be one of the worst bush fires we've had in the Blue Mountains.
Weather conditions are forecast to ease on Friday, with the temperature expected to hit a top of 22 degrees in the greater Sydney and central coast areas and significantly lighter winds than those that lashed the state on Thursday.
But Deputy Rural Fire Service Commissioner Rob Rogers said fire crews still had a momentous battle ahead of them, with 100 fires still burning across the state on Friday, including 36 that were not contained. Some blazes could take weeks to extinguish.
Mr Rogers said thousands of firefighters battled to save properties overnight, and extra fire crews were being brought in from Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania on Friday to relieve exhausted crews.
On Friday morning, one emergency warning remained in place for a bushfire in Ruttleys Road in Wyong.
That fire, which had burnt out 1400 hectares of bushland by early Friday morning, was burning in the vicinity of Doyalson North, Swansea, Cams Wharf, Nords Wharf, Murrays Beach, Cave Beach and Catherine Hill Bay areas.
An emergency alert telephone message was sent to phones in the Nords Wharf area in the early hours of Friday morning, warning residents in Governments Road: "It is too late to leave. Seek shelter as the fire impacts."
‘‘That fire has burnt all the way through to Catherine Hill Bay. That took some structures out, both commercial and residential along the way,’’ Mr Rogers said.
At 7am, he said that fire had been threatening properties for the past few hours at Nords Wharf and Murrays Beach.
The fire changed direction overnight when the southerly change hit, he said. As a result, the Pacific Highway between Swansea and Elizabeth Drive has been closed.
While the extent of the devastation from Thursday’s firestorm is still unclear, authorities said on Friday morning they were thankful there still had been no reports of loss of life.
However that was tempered by the knowledge that fire crews had yet to perform house-to-house searches to determine the extent of the damage, and any possible loss of life.
That would begin in some areas on Friday morning, Mr Rogers said. Cadaver dogs are being used in the search.
‘‘Teams will be going up to all of the fire-affected areas and starting to catalogue those losses,’’ he said.
‘‘They will be accompanied by police and we will be establishing that there were no victims in those homes that were lost.’’
Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill said unofficial reports suggested about 50 homes had been lost in his area alone.
"We’ve lost an awful, awful lot of homes," he said.
Springwood Fire and Rescue NSW's Trent Evans stood at the top of Buena Vista Road in the Blue Mountains and looked in shock as he surveyed the street where it was estimated up to 40 homes were lost.
"To see it in daylight is catastrophic," Mr Evans said. "It has to be one of the worst bush fires we've had in the Blue Mountains."
He said it was impossible to contain the fire which started in Links Road at Springwood.
"It happened so quick. You can't put out a fire that large."
At first light many red-eyes residents holding pets and each other's hands walked down Buena Vista Road to see if their homes had survived.
One resident Paul was relieved to find his dog Wilma had survived, after she spent the night in the burning street.
About 6.30am on Friday morning, the State Mine Fire affecting Lithgow and the Blue Mountains was downgraded from an emergency warning to a watch-and-act level. However the threat from that fire should not be underestimated, Mr Rogers said.
‘‘That fire has burnt around 31 kilometres yesterday, more than 24000 hectares. We know that there has been properties lost but crews have been continuing to protect properties in the Mount Wilson area overnight,’’ he said.
‘‘Just because it’s not at an emergency warning, that means that there’s not an imminent threat to property right now, but we’re still very concerned about that fire.’’
The threat level from two other major fires - the Linksview Road fire Springwood and the Hank Street fire in Heatherbrae - was downgraded overnight, from emergency warning level to a watch-and-act level.
A watch-and-act warning is also in place for the Hungerford Creek fire in Muswellbrook, the Hall Road Fire in Balmoral Village in the Southern Highlands, the Mount York Road fire at Mt Victoria in the Blue Mountains.
Mr Rogers said the southerly change on Thursday night caused the Springwood fire to spread north into Winmalee and Hawkesbury Heights, where a number of properties remained under threat.
‘‘The fire on the eastern side jumped the Nepean River, but we’re not concerned at the moment about threats from that to property,’’ he said.
Mr Rogers said the Port Stephens fire had now burnt all the way up to Medowie and Raymond Terrace, with unconfirmed reports of homes and commercial buildings being destroyed. Newcastle Airport remained closed overnight.
Mr Rogers said he had received reports of property loss in the Mount Victoria fire, which had entered the Grose Valley.
‘‘That will cause huge problems trying to control that,’’ he said.
He said there also were reports of property loss in the fire at Balmoral in the Southern Highlands. ‘‘Crews at the moment are doing back-burning operations to try to establish some containment line there. The Hume Highway has now been re-opened,’’ he said.
The Hancock Creek Road fire in the Shoalhaven was no longer threatening properties, he said.
Rob Sharpe, a meteorologist at Weatherzone, said weather conditions on Friday would make the firefighting effort easier than the previous day.
"Winds will be generally light in Sydney, the Blue Mountains and neighbouring areas as well, and from the south to south-west direction," he said.
"Because winds are going to be generally light, that means that fires are unlikely to move all that quickly today which means they should be easier to contain, however fires can still be fairly dangerous in those conditions."
Sydney and the Blue Mountains and much of the central coast are expected to hit a top of 22 degrees on Friday - about 12 degrees cooler than on Thursday.
Mr Sharpe said it would also be more humid on Friday than on Thursday.
"Humidity today in the Blue Mountains might get as low as 25 to 30 per cent, but yesterday at times it dipped below 10 per cent," he said.
Temperatures are expected to remain in the mid to high 20s over the weekend for the greater Sydney area, before rising into the 30s again on Monday.
Mr Sharpe said Springwood was heading for a top of 35 degrees on Monday, and Penrith was forecast to hit 37 degrees. However showers were also forecast to develop.
"On Monday we’re expecting winds to be moderate to fresh at times," he said.
"The fire conditions won’t be as dangerous as they were yesterday ... because those winds won’t be as strong and we will see more humidity as well and more moisture about with those showers starting to develop in the Monday-to-Wednesday period."
With Emma Partridge
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