NSW is preparing for catastrophic and unprecedented conditions in what could be the most dangerous bushfire week in Australia’s history.
The state is facing a threat it has never seen before, Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said, adding: “I just hope we get through that OK.”
A catastrophic fire danger rating – the highest possible level – is in place for the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter and Illawarra Shoalhaven areas.
A week-long state of emergency has been declared by Premier Gladys Berejiklian, as she pleaded with people to heed the warnings of the fire service and stay away from bushland.
Temperatures in the high 30s, low humidity and winds of up to 80 kilometres per hour, coupled with the drought mean the state faces “horrendous conditions”, Mr Rogers said.
“We’ve just got town after town after town that will be under threat,” he told ABC News on Monday night.
“It’s a threat that we haven’t faced ever before and I just hope we get through that OK and hopefully we won’t have to deal with it again.”
All available resources will be thrown at the fires, he added. “We’ve got every firefighter we can get, we’ve got every aircraft we can get, we’ve got military aircraft coming in to help us to look at rescuing people if people are stuck.
“Absolutely everything we can do is being brought to bear.”
NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the “catastrophic” level was “off the conventional scale”.
“We cannot guarantee a fire truck at every home, we cannot guarantee an aircraft will be overhead every time a fire is impacting on your property, we cannot guarantee that someone will knock on the door and give you a warning that there’s fires nearby and we certainly cannot guarantee that despite our best efforts the technological tools available will deliver you a message in time,” he said.
He said fire could spread so quickly people could find themselves in trouble before help arrived.
He also urged people to download the ‘Fires Near Me’ app.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has said ADF personnel were not trained firefighters but they would be on standby to provide other support if needed.
Hundreds of schools have been closed for the day, with Education Minister Sarah Mitchell saying “safety remains the number one priority”.
Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said residents face what “could be the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen”.
Mr Rogers said places where fires are already raging and are not contained such as the mid-north coast and north coast are “going to cause us problems”.
But he added the mission is to “overwhelm” any new fires elsewhere with fire trucks and aircraft so they don’t take hold.
There is an extreme fire danger rating – the second highest – in place for the North Coast, Southern Ranges, Central Ranges, New England, Northern Slopes and North Western areas.
A state-wide total fire ban is in place, and there were 60 fires burning across the state on Monday night – 28 of which were not contained.
Fires since Friday have claimed the lives of three people and destroyed at least 150 homes.
Recent days have seen a war of words break out over a potential link between the fires and climate change.
Ms Berejiklian said now is not the time to discuss the issue, but insisted her government has not shied away from talking about it and will discuss it at another time.
Nationals leader Michael McCormack condemned what he described as the “disgraceful, disgusting” behaviour of “raving inner-city lunatics” linking climate change to the blazes.
But some of those living in rural regions who have been directly affected made their feelings clear.
“To disregard the issue of climate change in a situation like this is wrong,” Cerene Lowe, whose home was among many razed in Wytaliba on Friday told AAP.
Fellow Wytaliba resident and Glen Innes Severn mayor Carol Sparks, whose home was severely damaged in a blaze, said there was “no doubt” about the link to climate change.