One missing, homes destroyed and residents run for lives

 

One man is missing, homes have been destroyed and residents had to run for their lives as a record number of fireys today tried to hold back "the most dangerous bushfire day by a long shot" the state has faced this season.

And NSW Rural Fire Services Commission Shane Fitzsimmons said the bushfire emergency was far from over.

A search is under way for the missing man, a resident of Dargan, near Lithgow whose home has been "enveloped by fire".

Cobar Park, near Lithgow, was the scene of a desperate battle to hold back the flames from nearby houses. Picture: Tim Hunter
Cobar Park, near Lithgow, was the scene of a desperate battle to hold back the flames from nearby houses. Picture: Tim Hunter

Four firefighters succumbed to heat exhaustion and a fifth was taken to hospital with burns on his face and hands, but no lives were lost as communities took heed of emergency warnings and evacuated as violent wind gusts pushed fire fronts ­towards towns.

Another firefighter was hit by a car in the Blue Mountains in the late afternoon and was taken to hospital.

A record 4000 NSW Rural Fire Service volunteers were joined by more than 6000 emergency personnel to fight fires by ground and air.

At one stage, firefighters were faced with seven ­emergency declarations and increasingly dangerous conditions after a fire-generated thunderstorm formed over the Shoalhaven fires.

RFS fire crews battle to save properties in Cobar Park, near Lithgow. Picture: Tim Hunter
RFS fire crews battle to save properties in Cobar Park, near Lithgow. Picture: Tim Hunter

Up to eight properties have been lost in Lithgow as the edge of the massive Gospers Mountain fire moves ever westward, the NSW Blue Mountains town's local federal MP said.

Fire has continued to burn south of the Bells Line of Road on Saturday night with a southerly briefly making fire behaviour erratic.

The Rural Fire Service said reports suggested homes had been damaged or destroyed in the Lithgow area as embers appeared before Nationals MP and Calare member Andrew Gee confirmed the losses to AAP.

"I received reports between four to eight (properties) and some of them were sheds. It is heartbreaking that a young family has lost their home just before Christmas," Mr Gee said at an evacuation centre in Lithgow, referring to a house burned down on Hepburn Street.

"On the positive side, I am relieved a lot more homes were saved than lost."

The 450,000-hectare Gospers Mountain fire on Saturday night remained at emergency level and is thought to have destroyed up to 20 homes in total. However cooler conditions on Sunday and for much of next week are likely to make containment of the mega-blaze partially easier.

Mr Gee said he was "deeply concerned" about reports an elderly man whose Dargan home was consumed by flames remains unaccounted for.

The evacuation centre at Lithgow Workies Club slowly filled with residents fleeing homes on Saturday, with NSW Families and Community Services pledging to assist evacuees seeking shelter.

Amanda Rich told AAP she had safely delivered her two pet dogs to a friend's place on the outskirts of Lithgow before attending the centre.

The 32-year-old mum of four said she was on her own as the bushfire raged on both sides of her street, with her husband at work.

"At least I got everything out in the car before those embers came," she said. Ms Rich said the RFS warned her to vacate quickly because "two fires are coming from Wallerawang and two coming from the mountains".

Max Hawken, meanwhile, didn't let his 82 years prevent him installing sprinklers on his Vale of Clwydd roof and pledging to defend his home.

"I have put the sprinklers ready all around the roof," Mr Hawken said as he showed AAP the plastic hoses attached to a sprinkler that he will manually turn on if the embers reach his street.

"This fire will be one of the worst we have if this town burns." Mr Hawken said he had defended his cottage several times over the more than half a century he'd lived in it and was ready to again.

Mr Gee also said a crew of five firefighters which were overrun by flames and trapped in Clarence bush had been found and transported to safety.

 
 

At 8.30pm, there were 120 fires burning across the state, with 70 out of control and four burning at emergency level.

Down in the Shoalhaven region, the Currowan fire is burning just north of Batemans Bay and to the west and southwest of Ulladulla, with the southerly activating its western boundary near communities such as Nerriga.

Among the more aggressive fires is Green Wattle Creek in southwestern Sydney, with the blaze remaining volatile despite cooler temperatures.

The Gospers Mountain fire races down towards Lithgow. Picture: Tim Hunter
The Gospers Mountain fire races down towards Lithgow. Picture: Tim Hunter

The fire pushed back through Balmoral yesterday, and out west to communities towards south of Bargo, forcing the closure of the Hume Highway.

Two people try desperately to keep encroaching flames at bay in Lithgow. Picture: Tim Hunter
Two people try desperately to keep encroaching flames at bay in Lithgow. Picture: Tim Hunter

 

The flames approaches a property in Bilpin. Picture: Jeremy Piper
The flames approaches a property in Bilpin. Picture: Jeremy Piper

While weather conditions were expected to ease today, total fire ban areas will remain in at-risk areas.

Mr Fitzsimmons said firefighters would today be working on "a combination of things" to contain fires.

"Our big focus is on trying to consolidate and establish containment lines across as many fire grounds as we can," he said.

"We have got significant fire spread now south of the Bells Line of Road and through the valley system, such as the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains region, so there will be a detailed assessment of the potential threat and the likely threat coming in days or weeks to the Blue Mountains region.

"There are a magnitude of challenges that will need to be contemplated tomorrow … and over the coming days.

"We're not going to get on top of these fires until we get some decent rain."

RFS members from Balmoral hug each other after rumours of property loss filters through. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
RFS members from Balmoral hug each other after rumours of property loss filters through. Picture: Sam Ruttyn

While firefighters will be granted a reprieve with cooler weather over the next few days, conditions are likely to again deteriorate, NSW ­Emergency Services Minister David ­Elliott warned.

"The high tempo of ­firefighting operations predicted were realised, with emergency services personnel reaching the extent of their capabilities," he said.

"It's safe to say that, although there have been losses, the co-ordinated response to yesterday's situation has no doubt saved lives and property. It was the state's most dangerous bushfire day by a long shot.

"Although the forecast for cooler weather next week will allow some reprieve … we're not out of danger, so complacency is not an option."

A home in Bargo is completely destroyed. Picture: David Gray/Getty Images
A home in Bargo is completely destroyed. Picture: David Gray/Getty Images