11 Feb 2017

"Potentially catastrophic" fire conditions in NSW

10:07 pm on 11 February 2017

Australian emergency services say they are facing "potentially catastrophic" fire conditions, as firefighters battle nearly 50 blazes in New South Wales, as a heat wave hits the country's east coast.

The rural NSW fire service tweeted this map warning people of the danger areas.

The rural NSW fire service tweeted this map warning people of the danger areas. Photo: Supplied / Twitter

The temperature surged past 40°C in more than 50 of the state's cities and towns on Saturday after but the NSW fire chief is warning the real danger is tomorrow.

"The conditions for Sunday are the worst possible conditions, they are catastrophic - we haven't seen this in NSW to this extent ever," warned Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons of tomorrow's fire danger.

He urged people to avoid or leave the bush before Sunday saying "you will not outrun these fires".

Citing Australia's worst bushfire disaster - the Black Saturday blazes, which claimed 173 lives in February 2009 - Mr Fitzsimmons said "the forecast indices (for Sunday) are greater than those faced by Victoria at the time".

Parks shut down: No camping, bushwalking, riding

Mr Fitzsimmons told people to avoid areas of catastrophic and severe fire danger.

"We cannot guarantee that a fire truck will be at every house.

"This is not a safe environment," said Mr Fitzsimmons.

National parks in the high fire dangers areas across the state were being shut down so fewer people might be caught out.

"We don't want people camping, we don't want people bushwalking, we don't want people out there four-wheel driving or riding their motorbikes through at risk areas - the risk is real," Mr Fitzsimmons said.

Records smashed across NSW

The highest temperature in the state on Saturday was Ivanhoe at 47.6°; the highest record for anywhere in NSW was recorded in 1939 at 49.7°.

There were many records broken across the state:

  • Penrith today reached 46.9°, beating its previous record of 46.5°;
  • Forbes recorded 45.5°, with its previous record only 44°;
  • Williamtown also reached 45.5° after a previous high of 44.7°.

On Sunday, conditions would intensify in centres including Dubbo, Coonabarabran and Narrabri in the north through to the Hunter Valley and the coast at Port Stephens.

The Bureau of Meteorology said very hot conditions associated with the mass of air, combined with fresh westerly winds over the southern half of the state, meant severe fire danger throughout Saturday for the Central and Southern ranges, Lower Central West and Hunter districts.

The monster hot air mass hovering over NSW had had "a baking effect" on vegetation, which meant extreme warnings would pose major risks.

Mr Fitzsimmons urged people to prepare early and stay out of danger by spending time at the movies or a local shopping centre.

The Australian Market Energy Operator said NSW faced a possible lack of power supply on Saturday afternoon, with the risk increasing into the evening.

AGL cut back on electricity use in the afternoon at its Tomago Aluminium Smelter in Newcastle, which uses about 10 percent of the state's power.