A strong southerly front overnight has caused worsening conditions for firefighters battling “volatile” conditions in NSW, with high winds sparking 300 new fire fronts and destroying more properties.
Strong winds have pushed the fire at Hillville, in northern NSW near Taree, in a north-westerly direction, along with blazes in other regions, as fires destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of bush.
About a dozen homes were damaged or destroyed in fires on Tuesday, as parts of the state endured a “catastrophic” fire danger.
NSW remains in a state of emergency, with high temperatures, strong winds and very low humidity causing treacherous conditions for some 1500 firefighters battling blazes.
More than a million hectares of land has been consumed by bushfires, and authorities dealt with 300 new blazes on Tuesday alone.
Fortunately heavy smoke on Tuesday morning served as an “insulation blanket” to the strong winds moving across the Northern Tablelands so several fires did not flare up as much as feared, RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
But he warned the challenge ahead remains “enormous”.
“All these fires … are still subject to the influence of this strong southerly change that’s moving across the fireground which will impact and influence fire behaviour, create volatile and potentially dangerous circumstances,” Mr Fitzsimmons told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday evening.
“The enormity of the task to bring these fires properly under control, to consolidate them, to get around them and mop them up is enormous.”
A number of firefighters were injured, but none are in a critical condition, and there were no people missing as of Tuesday night, he said. Injuries to firefighters throughout the day included fractures, heat exhaustion, fainting and collapse.
The bushfires, which hit hard on Friday, have claimed three lives and destroyed another 12 homes overnight, bringing the total number of properties destroyed to about 160, the Nine Network reported on Wednesday.
While conditions are expected to ease on Wednesday, Mr Fitzsimmons said a forecast for severe weather into the weekend and another burst of hot air next week means “we simply aren’t going to get the upper hand on all of these fires”.
The number of fires burning at emergency warning level had reduced to single figures by Tuesday night.
At one point during the afternoon, there were 15 emergency fires, close to Friday’s record of 17.
Firefighting efforts will be hampered as darkness falls because water-bombing aircraft can’t be used overnight, with reliance on firefighters on the ground.
Fire danger ratings have been reduced, with the highest being a severe rating in place for New England for Wednesday.
A statewide total fire ban remains in place.
Eighty aircraft were available on Tuesday to battle the blazes, Mr Fitzsimmons said.
Bureau of Meteorology state manager Ann Farrell says as the southerly change moves up NSW “the fires will be fanned in a different direction”.
A week-long state of emergency has been declared in NSW with the armed forces standing by to provide support, including for search and rescue operations.
Some 600 schools were closed although most are expected to reopen, apart from about 140 state schools – mainly in the north.
For travellers, all XPT services will be suspended until Wednesday evening, while Sydney to Brisbane services have been cancelled.
Express coaches will continue to operate from Casino to Wauchope, subject to road closures, while other buses will operate from Maitland to Scone, however, no coach service will operate for passengers between Taree and Sydney.