20 Oct 2013

State of emergency declared in NSW as fires set to worsen

9:58 pm on 20 October 2013

A state of emergency has been declared across New South Wales, as firefighters prepare themselves for deteriorating weather being forecast throughout the state.

Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, who has since signed the order, said there were concerns weather conditions would deteriorate significantly over the next few days.

The declaration triggers a range of measures, including allowing emergency services to direct the public to evacuate or to order power and gas supplies be shut off.

Mr Fitzsimmons said new information from the Bureau of Meteorology on Sunday morning firmed up concerns about the next few days with Wednesday predicted to be the worst day for fires.

He said drawing a parallel with the current emergencies with past fires would mean going as far back as the 60s, specifically a major fire in 1968.

Emergency warnings were issued in the Blue Mountains on Saturday and the Rural Fire Service said 208 homes have been destroyed since Thursday when the bushfires began with more than 60 fires continuing to burn on Sunday.

Residents of the tiny township of Bell were warned on Sunday to evacuate as a major fire between Lithgow and the Blue Mountains was upgraded to emergency status.

Premier Barry O'Farrell warned residents across the state to brace for the possibility of mass evacuations in the coming days, amid dire weather forecasts. "The state's in for challenging days ahead," he told reporters at Rural Fire Service headquarters on Sunday.

The premier said hot, dry conditions were expected to sweep over populated areas from Sunday afternoon and authorities were bracing for more destruction across the Blue Mountains.

"That will involve decisions being made about asking people, particularly in fringe areas, to leave their homes for their safety," he said.

"Undoubtedly, that will cause distress to those people and it may cause wider controversy.

"But it's clear that at times like this it's better to be safe than sorry."

Meanwhile, interstate fire crews, including eight teams from Queensland and two from the Australian Capital Territory, have been deployed to NSW to help with the effort.

New Zealand fire crews are also on stand-by to help if needed.