8 Nov 2019

NSW in 'uncharted territory' with record number of emergency fires burning

7:26 pm on 8 November 2019

Firefighters are in "uncharted territory" with a record number of fires burning at emergency level across NSW this afternoon and conditions set to worsen.

The NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) is desperately trying to protect properties around the state, with 15 blazes given emergency warning status and 50 burning out of control.

RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said parts of the M1 motorway and the New England Highway were closed and he warned other road closures could leave people trapped.

"You've got to understand a lot of the access roads in and around many of these fires are more dangerous than staying in a shelter or a safer place in your local community or your property," he said.

"The principal message is about sheltering and sheltering in place - it's simply too dangerous and too late to leave."

Mr Fitzsimmons said more than 1,000 firefighters and 70 aircraft had been deployed "to save as many people as possible".

"We cannot emphasise enough the volatility and danger associated with all these fires," he said.

Mr Fitzsimmons also said the energy produced by each fire was influencing the behaviour of those nearby due to their close proximity, and most were spreading at twice the normal pace.

Windy, dry and hot conditions have pushed the fire danger to extreme on the far north coast and in the New England region.

Between Forster, on the mid-north coast, and the Queensland border emergency warnings had been issued for fires at Wandsworth, Torrington, Nymboida, Tyringham, Buckra Bendinni, Willi Willi, the Tapin Tops National Park, the Crowdy Bay National Park, Port Macquarie, Hillville, Muck Creek and Bora Ridge.

A blaze is also burning at emergency level in the Woodford area of the Blue Mountains and those in the area are advised to seek shelter.

Residents around the bushfires at Hillville and the Crowdy Bay National Park, near Taree, have been advised to leave now or seek shelter as fire fighters and aircraft battle the blazes.

The blaze at Tyringham, west of Coffs Harbour is spreading quickly due to strong and gusty winds.

Residents around a fire at Torrington near Tenterfield have been advised to monitor the situation.

Those in the Nymboida area should leave now towards Grafton if they do not plan to defend their property.

The Education Department said several public schools would be closed for the rest of the day, due to the fires.

The fires around Port Macquarie have given the entire region an eerie orange tinge, with one resident describing the scene as "apocalyptic".

Mr Fitzsimmons said drought conditions meant there was a high fuel load and strong winds were causing embers to spot up to 12 kilometres ahead of the fire fronts.

"Those embers are landing in very dry, highly flammable vegetation and starting new fires very, very easily … so you get this exponential growth of the fire front and acceleration of the fire front moving across the landscape," he said.

Mr Fitzsimmons said the fires were fanned by westerly winds but those closest to the coast were also being influenced by coastal breeze and were moving in a westerly direction.

"It's a very dynamic, volatile and dangerous set of circumstances we are experiencing across these fire grounds," he said.

'Everything is on fire'

Yesterday, a bushfire came within metres of homes in Forster as terrified residents scrambled to flee.

"Everything is on fire and we're stuck in traffic," one woman was heard saying in a video posted to Facebook.

"The fire has jumped across to Harvey Norman and it's burning everything there ... we saw two cars on fire over there."

NSW RFS deputy commissioner Rob Roger said the drought gripping the state had made for dire fire conditions.

"While we are dealing with some fires near properties, there are a lot of fires that are more remote that have been burning now for a month or six weeks and in some two months," he said.

"Those fires have the potential to keep burning, getting bigger and coming out into populated areas."