18 Oct 2013

NSW wildfires out of control

9:46 pm on 18 October 2013

Firefighters are battling a series of major wildfires in New South Wales, with fears that hundreds of homes have been destroyed.

More than 20 fires are still out of control, despite the easing of temperatures and winds. The worst, at Springwood in the Blue Mountains, near Sydney, has flared again.

A 63-year-old man died defending his house at Lake Munmorah on the central coast, while Lithgow and the Southern Highlands are also under attack from blazes that have torn though about 91,000 hectares throughout the state.

Firefighters have been able to inspect only about a third of the properties in the hardest-hit parts of Springwood, the ABC reports.

Fire trucks and crews are waiting at semi-rural properties in case the flames get any closer and on Friday afternoon, scores of homes evacuated by police and Springwood High School students had to leave their campus.

Properties destroyed

More than 80 properties in the area are confirmed to have been destroyed, while 37 others have significant damage.

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill describes the scene as one of "utter devastation", and there are fears as many as 200 homes may have been destroyed.

Such fires haven't been seen in the area in decades, Mr Greenhill says. Many homes have been lost in Winmalee and quite likely in other communities including Mount Victoria, Springwood and Yellow Rock.

Fires have been raging in Wollongong, Newcastle and the Central Coast, as well as the Blue Mountains, with a thick cloud of smoke shrouding central Sydney. The fires have been fanned by winds gusting up to 80km/h.

Selfless crews

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons fought back tears while describing the crisis and paid tribute to his "selfless" crews.

Mr Fitzsimmons says some firefighters have lost their own homes, but crews remain upbeat despite the task ahead. "We've got the best fire-fighters in the world, they are second to none."

New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell says the community needs to be prepared for very bad news.

"We've got volunteers coming in from around the state to deploy resources to tackle these issues. We're unclear yet as to how many properties have been lost, but it's suspected that by the time we finish counting it'll at least be in the 100s."