HOMEOWNERS in NSWs Blue Mountains are being warned of mandatory evacuations as the state braces for a return of dire bushfire conditions.
More than 200 homes have already been destroyed in blazes that have raged across the Blue Mountains, the Southern Highlands and the Central Coast since Thursday.
An emergency warning was today issued for the township of Bell, with people being told to leave and head for Lithgow, where an evacuation centre has been set up.
Some, including the communities of Mount Tomah and Berambing, were told to get out urgently shortly before 2pm (AEDT) today and go to Richmond.
Others, like those in Bilpin Village, can choose to stay but could be cut off from power and telecommunication for several days. People in Mount Irvine and Mount Wilson have been told it is too late to leave.
The emergency warning comes as the Rural Fire Service (RFS) warns of a return of high temperatures and strong winds from this afternoon through to midweek.
“These conditions that we’re looking at are a whole new ball game,” RFS Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters.
Of most concern are the three large blazes in the Blue Mountains.
These were the Springwood-Winmalee and Mount Victoria fires, as well as the State Mine Fire that has already burned through more than 37,000 hectares of bushland and was today nearing the township of Bell.
Mr Fitzsimmons said forced evacuations would be on the cards across the Blue Mountains, including built-up areas such as Leura and Katoomba, in the coming days.
There were already indications the fire at Mount Victoria could threaten homes at Blackheath this afternoon, and the winds, high temperatures and dropping humidity were set to intensify through tomorrow, Tuesday and Wednesday, he said.
“We’re not talking about emptying out the Blue Mountains,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
“(But) the reality is that these fires are going to pose a significant and widespread risk and threat to communities right across the Blue Mountains.”
The conditions are also ripe for any of the 60-plus blazes burning across the state to flare up or for new fires to ignite, Mr Fitzsimmons warned.
Earlier today, Premier Barry O’Farrell said communities across the state should brace for a tough week.
“The state’s in for challenging days ahead,” he said at RFS headquarters.
“(But NSW can) get through this crisis … We breed ’em tough in this state.”
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke said anyone who fails to obey orders from police officers and firefighters will be putting their lives on the line.
“In the past, we’ve been able to say `leave if you can, shelter in place’,” Mr Clarke said.
“Sometimes the message now in these areas will be, `you must be out’.”
People in fire-affected areas should check the RFS website and listen to local radio for specific advice.