NSW bushfires a serious threat to life

Last updated 22:22 17/10/2013

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Dozens of homes in New South Wales are feared destroyed and thousands more remain in the path of fires still burning out of control as the Australian state is hit by its worst bushfire emergency in more than a decade.

There are more than 90 fires burning across the state at 8pm local time (NZT 10pm), about 35 of which remain uncontained.

"This is as bad as it gets. You’re talking people losing everything they own," NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

RFS deputy commissioner Rob Rogers said it had been a nightmare day.

"It's probably the most serious fire risk we've faced since the early 2000s," he told ABC Radio.

"... If we come out of this day without losing hundreds of homes we'll be very lucky."

He said some firefighters have suffered injuries, including one with burns.

There were also unconfirmed reports of properties being lost at Lithgow, at Yanderra and Balmoral in the Southern Highlands, and in Port Stephens, where a fire is burning near Newcastle Airport.

Elsewhere in NSW, fires of grave concern to authorities are burning at Leppington, near Camden, west of Sydney, at Wyong on the Central Coast, at South Nowra on the south coast, and at Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley.

RFS spokesman Anthony Clark earlier said there had been reports of a "couple of homes" destroyed at Springwood and Winmalee in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney.

The fire had run downhill toward Penrith.

WEATHER WATCH

Firefighters had their eye on the weather, as a change that followed the 34-plus degree Celsius day gusted winds up to 90kmh.

"As that change comes through we're going to see fires burning on new fronts and communities to the north of these fires can expect to see a lot of fire, a lot of smoke," he said.

"We have got numerous homes which have been destroyed this afternoon.

"We simply don't have a number at this stage."

ANGUISH OVER LOSS

A Blue Mountains father has told of his anguish at losing his life-long family home in an out-of-control bushfire.

Joe Moore was on the phone to his son, a RFS volunteer firefighter, as he was trying to protect their family home at Springwood on Thursday.

"All the neighbours were trying (to protect it) and then they got evacuated and my son got to stay back and tried to fight it but it got too much," he said.

Moore said he heard the firefighters yell out to his son that they had lost the home before being forced to flee the fast-moving flames.

"I have been here all my life," he said.

"It was a dream home."

Despite the enormity of his loss, Moore said there had been no loss of life, and homes could be replaced.

Moore lived in the property with his wife, three sons and four Aboriginal boys he was a foster carer for.

"They tried as hard as they could to save it but the winds just got too bad and they couldn't save it," he said.

FIRE BAN IN PLACE

A total fire ban remains in place for several areas of the state as three blazes cause firefighters the most concern.

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In the Blue Mountains, near Lithgow, more than 100 firefighters were battling a massive blaze that was skirting the village of Oaky Park and spotting into Clarence.

A new fire had also broken out at Springwood.

A Blue Mountains resident said the RFS had just knocked on his door warning the fire was approaching.

"The sky is very dark with the sun burning orange through the dark smoke," the resident told ABC radio.

Rogers tweeted: "lithgow fire becoming unpredictable. Residents please take extreme care. Very serious danger to life today".

Residents who had not already evacuated before noon were advised to take shelter in their homes.

In the Southern Highlands, southwest of Sydney, a fire at the village of Balmoral, in Wingecarribee, was moving very quickly.

AIRPORT CLOSED

At Port Stephens, north of Newcastle, Newcastle Airport was closed around 12pm local time (2pm NZT) and all flights in and out were suspended because of a bushfire burning nearby.

Smoke from the Port Stephens fires, not far from where four homes were lost on Sunday, was visible from the Newcastle central business district.

Similar conditions on Sunday saw six homes lost to fires at Port Stephens, north of Newcastle, and near Kempsey on the north coast.

Attempts to waterbomb in Lithgow were being hindered by 90kmph winds, which were also capable of carrying embers up to 6km.

Two evacuation centres have been set up at Lithgow Workers Club and Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens.

Meanwhile, more than 130 firefighters are fighting the blaze near Port Stephens.

 - AAP and Sydney Morning Herald

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