All schools in the Blue Mountains will be closed and the largest firefighting force in NSW history will be mobilised today with conditions tipped to be even worse than feared. Photo: Andrew Meares
11.09am: In the latest fire update RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has said that there has not been any flare ups in the area yet. “It’s a good result…but we still have many hours to get through”.
“It is important for every hour we get through today…it’s an indication from keeping fires a little further away,” he said.
11.00am: It has been confirmed that strong winds in the NSW Blue Mountains are preventing water-bombing of fires burning in the region as conditions deteriorate. According to AAP, RFS spokesman Ben Shepherd has said winds up to 80km/h had forced water-bombing helicopters to suspend operations over fires at Lithgow, Springwood and Mt Victoria.
He says there is still an aircraft in the mountains monitoring the fires.
Interactive fire map:
10.55am: Reports that water-bombing has been suspended because of strong winds.
10.44am: A fire hazard has emerged on the M1 as crews contain a median strip alight in Corranbong near Lake Macqaurie.
10.29am: Telstra has closed shop in Springwood. Authorities have urged residents to leave the Blue Mountains today, they have also reminded families to stay together as schools are closed for the day.
10.26am: Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione has said it is taking a pro-active approach to looters. He has told Triple M radio the riot squad will be out in force, as a Winmalee couple described being woken by police overnight as a man and woman sorted through goods in their driveway.
10.16am: The Rural Fire Service gathers ahead of horror forecasts.
10.10am: New Mayor of the Blue Mountains Mark Greenhill has praised residents for heeding the warning and leaving the mountains early on Wednesday morning. “What’s been remarkable is the resilience of the community because we’re in both a disaster and a recovery phase, we’ve already lost 210 homes,” he told AAP at the Springwood Sport Club, which is acting as a community evacuation centre.
Like everyone in the mountains, the mayor is frustrated overnight rain had actually slowed the pace of back burning operations.
“We just can’t cut a break,” he said.
10.00am: RFS Commissioner Mr Fitzsimmons has said almost 1000 interstate firefighters were now deployed in NSW. Around 3000 firefighters in total were either fighting blazes or on standby.
He said the immediate fire risk would probably peak on Wednesday, but there was still a “long tough road ahead”. “Firefighters will be working on these fires for a week,” he said.
The commissioner said he had talked to Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday morning, who sent his best wishes to the communities impacted by the fires.
9.53am: Some Blackheath residents have taken the call to leave and head to a relative, friend or control centres in Penrith Panthers and Lithgow Workers Club.
9.49am: In his latest update, Mr Fitzsimmons urged parents to stay with children. “If they were my children I would want to have them with me … or drop them with a family member or a trusted friend,” he said. “This is not a day off (for kids) to have a good time.”
9.32am: AAP is reporting that residents of the NSW Blue Mountains are beginning to flee ahead of what’s feared to be the most serious day of the state’s bushfire crisis.
Premier Barry O’Farrell said Lithgow Workers Club and Penrith Worker’s Club were open for people who have nowhere else to go and state government assistance was available there.
Photo: Andrew Meares
“We hope of course that today’s conditions, today’s potential events, do not occur,” he told reporters.
“As the commissioner has said repeatedly, we’ve planned for the worst, but we continue to hope for the best. “But whatever happens today, we’re not out of the woods. “This will be a long exercise, not just from these firegrounds but from elsewhere.
The premier said the state would get through the day because of the “extraordinary efforts” of fire authorities in planning and firefighting.
Three of the four most serious bushfires are being battled in the mountains west of Sydney, where more than 200 homes were burned down last week.
9.30am: Firefighters from all over the country are coming in to help. Here’s a pic Premier Barry O’Farrell tweeted earlier of a convoy of trucks on their way from South Australia.
9.06am: Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons and NSW Premier Barry Barry O’Farrell are wrapping up their latest update.
They said winds are strengthening in the Blue Mountains and the good news is that they haven’t caused spotting and spreading as early as it was thought they would.
Mr O’Farrell urged residents who haven’t made plans that it’s time to leave “now”.
Mr Fitzsimmons said the winds are strengthening, and it would “appear at this early stage the weather forecast is on track for hot and dry weather”.
Of concern he said lightning continues in the north-west of NSW and it has already caused some fire activity.
The good news is firefighters have the upper hand,” he said.
8.50am: Blue Mountains, Hunter and Southern Highlands residents will not be charged for the water used to defend their homes during the bushfire crisis, the NSW government has announced.
Mr O’Farrell has released a list of suburbs where customers would not be billed for the water, and say it could be extended if conditions deteriorate.
“This is a very difficult time for residents in the Blue Mountains, Hunter and Southern Highlands and the last thing they need to be worrying about is how much water they are using and the impact on their bills,” he said.
Earlier, winds strengthened early on Wednesday morning and overnight rain made barely an impact on the region west of Sydney, where almost 200 homes were lost to fire last week.
Winds are being recorded up to 70km/h and lightning has been experienced behind the ranges, adjacent to the fires in the mountains, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters on Wednesday.
“This is the day where we’ve been receiving forecasts of the worst of weather for this week and that forecast is still staying with those predictions,” he said.
“We are expecting to see extreme fire danger rating conditions for greater Sydney and the Hunter.”
Most fire-affected areas received less than two millimetres of rain overnight, and it wouldn’t take long for that moisture to evaporate, he said.
“Every hour we get today where fires don’t flare up, where spot fires don’t breach the containment lines or the main firefront crosses over the containment lines will be a positive thing, because that means the fires won’t run as far as they possibly could,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
“It is too early to call just where these fires will break out and therefore which communities will start being impacted first and later on in the afternoon.”
The Blue Mountains is expecting temperatures of up to 25 degrees on Wednesday, with the mercury tipped to reach 35 in Sydney.
Mr Fitzsimmons said there had been “no material difference” in the size or growth of the state’s four major fires.
“The rain will not make a discernible difference to fire behaviour today,” he said.
“What it may do is buy us a little bit of time.”
Emergency Services Minister Mike Gallacher urged Blue Mountains residents to listen out for fire warnings.
“If you don’t have a plan, let me give you one,” he said.
“Pack the car now and head down the mountain and enjoy time in the metropolitan area.
“Allow the firefighters the freedom to move through the community to protect your homes.”
The Lithgow and Mt Victoria fires have burned through around 50,000 hectares, with 120,000 hectares burnt in total across the state.
More than 1000 firefighters are out in the field.
Rain hampers backburning efforts
Lightning and slippery conditions have hampered firefighters battling three out-of-control bushfires in the Blue Mountains.
The NSW bushfire emergency is entering its seventh day with 59 fires burning across the state, including 18 uncontained.
The RFS is expecting severe and extreme fire danger throughout the day, with high temperatures and strong winds forecast for much of the state.
All schools in the Blue Mountains will be closed and the largest firefighting force in NSW history will be mobilised today with conditions tipped to be even worse than feared.
RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says it will be hotter and drier than predicted and wind gusts are expected to reach around 100 kilometres an hour across the fire grounds and areas under total fire ban.
Three major fires burning in the Blue Mountains are at “watch and act” level, with the same advice issued for a blaze burning at Balmoral, in the southern highlands.
Some nursing home patients are also being moved out of facilities at Springwood.
Photo: Dallas Kilponen
The RFS has said 59 are burning in NSW, 19 uncontained. Extreme fire danger rating in Sydney, Blue Mountains, Central Coast and the Hunter region.
— With AAP