State of emergency: Grim fire warning issued

Three people have died and 200 homes and sheds lost to bushfires over the weekend in NSW and QLD.

Experts are warning the worst is yet to come.

Firefighters are today battling blazes in both states, as residents in parts of Western Australia are on high alert with an "Extreme Fire Danger" forecast for the South Interior.

There are catastrophic conditions predicted for Greater Sydney and the Greater Hunter areas tomorrow.

More than 850,000ha of land have been razed since the start of the bushfire season in NSW this year.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has declared a state of emergency ahead of tomorrow's "catastrophic" conditions.

She took that step in response to a request from RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons last night.

Mr Fitzsimmons said under these conditions fires can start and spread so quickly that people could be in severe danger before help arrives.

"We cannot guarantee a fire truck, we cannot guarantee an aircraft, we cannot guarantee a knock at the door and we certainly cannot guarantee a telephone message going out," he told ABC on Monday.

 

• For bushfire updates in New South Wales, go to the NSW RFS website.

• For bushfire updates in Queensland, go to the QLD RFS website.

 

"Leaving early is the safest option for the survivability of you and your loved ones.

"Homes are not designed to withstand the conditions that develop under a catastrophic fire danger rating."

At a press conference today, he added "you can expect the most extraordinary fire behaviour".

"It is not without question that spotting activity can be well and truly over 20 kilometres ahead of the main fire front," the commissioner said.

"Catastrophic conditions are where lives are lost, it's where people die.

"The volatility and the rapid spread of fire across the landscape, we are rarely able to do anything meaningful when it comes to suppression.

"Our entire focus goes on saving life, focusing on life as first and foremost even all those other things - property and everything - become secondary."

Anthony Clark from the RFS said the situation would be "as bad as it gets".

"There's a lot of hard work ahead of us, but the simple message is we're not going to get on top of those fires before these really bad conditions hit on Tuesday," Mr Clark said.

Meteorologist Ben Domensino said a mass of hot air was moving across to the east from Western Australia.

"It is elevating fire danger ratings in South Australia and parts of Victoria today on Monday, then on Tuesday, the threat will shift and focus into NSW and Wednesday, it pushes further north," he said.

"So that's why we're seeing these danger ratings in South Australia elevated fire danger ratings across multiple states on multiple days.

"The drought's been widespread and in some places record breaking.

"We have known this has been coming for months because we've had this dry weather leading up to the hottest time of year.

"Now we're seeing the winds increasing, the temperatures increasing, which are typical of this time of year. But we don't normally have this much fuel.

"We are seeing all of those conditions combined to create the perfect conditions for catastrophic fire danger ratings which is the highest rating on that scale and the first time it has been issued for Sydney."

 

 

A DEVASTATING WEEKEND OF BUSHFIRES

• Three people dead in NSW: Vivian Chaplain, 69, Julie Fletcher, 63, and George Nole

• 200 homes and sheds lost in QLD and NSW

• 61 fires still burning in NSW

• 51 fires still burning in Queensland

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison comforts 85-year-old Owen Whalan who was evacuated from his home during a visit to Club Taree Evacuation Centre. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman
Prime Minister Scott Morrison comforts 85-year-old Owen Whalan who was evacuated from his home during a visit to Club Taree Evacuation Centre. Picture: AAP Image/Darren Pateman

 

ALL THREE NSW VICTIMS NAMED

All three people who died in unprecedented bushfires in NSW have been identified while all those feared missing have been accounted for.

Julie Fletcher, 63, was named by multiple media outlets on Sunday as the third victim of the bushfires.

Her body was discovered in a burnt-out home in the town of Johns River some 40 kilometres north of Taree on the mid-north coast.

Fires swept through the area on Saturday afternoon.

Ms Fletcher's neighbour Russell Souter said she was a "quality person". "(She) would help you any time, her father was the same, they're just a really good family," Mr Souter told the ABC on Sunday.

Ms Fletcher's sister told Mr Souter she was "just devastated". "What do you when you lose a family member?" he said.

It has been reported the second victim of Friday's firestorm, who was found in a burnt car near Glen Innes, is George Nole.

Those who knew Mr Nole, an elderly man from Wytaliba, took to Facebook to pay tribute to him.

"He was such a gentlemen. Will be missed by many," Crystal Grob posted. Wytaliba resident Vivian Chaplain, 69, was earlier named as one of the victims. Ms Chaplain was treated for burns before being transferred to a Sydney hospital where she later died, the Rural Fire Service NSW said on Saturday. Friends have posted emotional tributes on social media.

"I am so sorry for your loss … Vivian was such a beautiful person," Laura Hayden wrote on Facebook.

"Many condolences to all at Wytaliba, each and everyone is in our hearts," wrote Nola Mae.

On Saturday, seven people were reported missing but on Sunday the NSW RFS confirmed all had been accounted for.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says her thoughts are with all those affected by the fires.

"The situation is very serious," she said in a statement.

"Our thoughts and prayers go to the families and loved ones of those who have died and to all who have been affected by these fires."

NSW WARNINGS FOR MONDAY AND TUESDAY

In NSW fire authorities are extremely worried about Tuesday with Sydney facing a "Catastrophic" fire danger for the first time since the new ratings were introduced in 2009.

The NSW Rural Fire Service is bracing for the highest level of bushfire danger for Greater Sydney and the Greater Hunter, including the Blue Mountains and Central Coast areas.

For those areas with a "Catastrophic" rating, the NSW RFS recommends that "leaving early is the only option".

"Leave bushfire prone areas the night before or early in the day - do not just wait and see what happens," the RFS site says. "Homes are not designed to withstand fires in catastrophic conditions so you should leave early."

If you live in an area where "Catastrophic" fire danger is forecast but you're unable to leave, the NSW RFS recommends you identify a safer location nearby. This may include a Neighbourhood Safer Place. You can find your nearest here.

A statewide total fire ban has been declared for all areas of NSW for today and tomorrow.

Schools in high-risk areas will be closed. The Department of Education website has the most up to date list of school closures, however if you are in doubt, please contact the school directly.

In NSW today there are closures at some national parks and reserves north of Hawkesbury River. You can see a full list of closures and alerts here.

 

 

 

QLD WARNINGS FOR MONDAY AND TUESDAY

In Queensland, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warned yesterday, "We are not out of the woods yet because there is going to be constant fire danger over the next week, right up until Friday, with Wednesday being a very serious day".

A light, humid sea breeze should assist firefighting efforts in coastal areas today, the Bureau of Meteorology's Dean Narramore said.

"It will hopefully allow firefighters to get a bit of a handle on the fires," he said.

But later in the day, a fresh gustier sea breeze could challenge firefighters in the Yeppoon area.

A state of fire emergency across 42 local government areas bans all outdoor fires and activities such as welding that can spark fires.

RELATED: Rolling list of Queensland areas under threat

RELATED: Evacuee's heartbreaking phone call to home phone

A NSW Rural Fire Service truck is seen in Torrington, near Glen Innes on Sunday. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled
A NSW Rural Fire Service truck is seen in Torrington, near Glen Innes on Sunday. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled

 

BE PREPARED

There are four steps you can take to get ready for a bush fire, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service.

• Discuss what to do if a bush fire threatens your home. Download a discussion guide here.

• Prepare your home and get it ready for bush fire season. Download a checklist here.

• Know the bush fire alert levels: If there's a fire in your area you can find out the alert level on the NSW RFS website, on the Queensland RFS website or on the radio. The three levels are:

Advice - A fire has started. There is no immediate danger. Stay up to date in case the situation changes.

Watch and act - There is a heightened level of threat. You need to start taking action to protect you and your family.

Emergency warning - You may be in danger and need to take action immediately. Any delay now puts your life at risk.

• Keep all the bush fire information numbers (bush fire info line: 1800 649 737), websites and the smartphone app (Fires Near Me NSW app)

 

FOR THOSE AFFECTED

For those who've lost their homes to the fires, the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment and the Disaster Recovery Allowance have been activated to provide financial assistance. Payments will provide $1000 for adults and $400 for children.

There is also a Disaster Recovery Allowance which provides 13 weeks of income support to compensate people for loss of income. Fire victims can contact Centrelink to receive their payments.

 

- with Heather McNab, AAP


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