At least 40 homes have been lost and several firefighters severely burned after out-of-control bushfires ripped through the Blue Mountains.
Balmoral – home to around 700 people in the New South Wales Southern Highlands – and several other tiny towns were ravaged by the enormous 415,000 hectare megafire early on Thursday afternoon.
Two firefighters had to be placed in induced comas after being overrun by flames at Bargo, while another three are injured.
A 56-year-old man suffering burns to his face and legs and a 28-year-old woman with burns to her face both had to be airlifted to Concord Hospital in ‘serious conditions’.
The Hume Highway has been shut between Campbelltown and Mittagong, with the blaze threatening to jump the road.
Motorists have been warned they face having their holiday plans ruined by the bushfires blazing around the vital motorway connecting the region with Sydney.
A tree is engulfed by flames after 45C temperatures and 100km/h winds created a perfect storm in the NSW Blue Mountains
A property was flattened in Buxton, 150 kilometres southwest of Sydney as residents were told it was too late to leave
A swing set appeared to be the only remaining structure on a fire-ravaged Buxton property
Burnt-out cars sat in fire-ravaged bushland in Buxton as fire threatened multiple communities south-west of Sydney
‘As bad as conditions are today, Saturday is going to be worse,’ NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday afternoon.
‘If you are told a road is closed, if you are told not to travel please take the advice, this is a state of emergency, we don’t take it lightly.
‘It’s normally a special time of the year, but we are under extreme circumstance and we just need everybody to listen to the warnings.’
In Balmoral and the neighbouring town of Bargo, authorities said 20 homes have been destroyed, while another 20 were lost in Buxton.
In Balmoral and the neighbouring town of Bargo, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said 20 homes have been destroyed, while another 20 were lost in Buxton
A truck caught ablaze as the devastating fires ripped through NSW’s southern highlands on Thursday
One woman who was loading horses into a float as she fled Bargo – where at least six homes have been lost – said both her animals and residents of the town were ‘in panic mode’.
‘Property can be saved but it’s life that can,’ she told 9News.
Residents in many towns have now being told it is too late to leave.
Adding to the headaches for fire fighters is a southerly change, due to hit on Thursday and push the blaze towards southern Sydney suburbs including Tahmoor.
Residents in Tahmoor, Pheasants Nest, Buxton, Couridjah, Thirlmere, Bargo, Balmoral and Yanderra have been told it is too late to leave.
The mayor of Wollondilly Shire Matthew Deeth said the situation was ‘as serious as it gets’.
The bushfire left behind just a smouldering wreckage of this home after striking the township of Bargo – with one resident said they were shocked the fire had reached suburbia
Residents watched on as the out-of-control bushfire near Bargo sent thick plumes of smoke into the sky
‘Our evacuation centre at Picton Bowling Club is at capacity and our RFS volunteers are stretched incredibly thin,’ he told The Australian.
One resident said they were shocked the fire had reached suburbia – with the collection of small towns less than 50km away from Campbelltown on Sydney’s south-western fringe.
The devastating blazes have prompted NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian to declare a state of emergency for the next seven days.
By 7pm on Thursday evening, the state’s Rural Fire Service extended the same warning to the towns of Newnes Junction, Dargan and Clarence in the Blue Mountains.
Two major fire fronts have converged in Balmoral – which have been fanned by the winds exceeding 100 km/h
A property smoulders at Balmoral after the flames left a trail of destruction in their wake on Thursday
A ball of flamed consumed this home in Buxton, which neighbours fire-ravaged Balmoral in NSW’s Southern Highlands,
While conditions are expected to ease slightly overnight, Rural Fire Services (RFS) crews will be under the pump for days to come with conditions expected to hit 42C on Saturday
A 56-year-old man suffering burns to his face and legs and a 28-year-old woman with burns to her face both had to be airlifted to Concord Hospital in ‘serious conditions’
‘We have got two major fire fronts having impacted this location on Wilson (Drive) Balmoral,’ Fire and Rescue duty commander Kerin Lambert told The Daily Telegraph.
‘Two major fire fronts have literally come together.
‘When it happened, we had 50m high winds, at least 100km/h winds, incredible radiant heat and numerous houses were catching alight.’
Firefighters in the Blue Mountains are meanwhile desperately battling to contain a blaze – which on Friday crossed the Bells Line of Road – burning near the outskirts of the town of Bilpin
Firefighters were unable to save this home at Bargo, believed to be one of a few dozen lost on a horror day of fire across NSW
A firefighter battles against the blazes in Balmoral as NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian placed the state into a state of emergency for the next seven days
A home is claimed by the Green Wattle Creek Fire at Buxton and NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian warned conditions on Saturday could lead to further devestation
A wall of smoke and fire confronts a member of the Rural Fire Service at Green Wattle in the Blue Mountains
The enormity of the 415,000 hectare bushfire which is burning out of control in the Blue Mountains can be seen in the background
A bushfire burns along the Old Hume Highway near Tahmoor – one of several towns where residents have been told to leave
Conditions are not expected to ease until late on Thursday night, before another day of danger on Friday and worsening conditions of 42C on Saturday.
Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told media the fire was growing at such a rapid rate that it was currently hard to get exact details on properties lost.
‘I suspect we’re probably talking in the vicinity of dozens. What that is in terms of homes, sheds, facilities, I just simply don’t have that detail at this stage,’ he said.
The Gospers Mountain fire, which is ravaging the Wollemi National Park, could meet the Green Wattle Creek blaze as New South Wales battles temperatures scaling above 40C on Thursday
Up to 40 homes have been lost and several firefighters rushed to hospital suffering severe burns
Bushland in Balmoral was smouldering by Thursday evening after the bushfire ripped through the region 150km south-west of Sydney
‘It’s too fast and unfolding as we speak.’
The devestating bushfires comes as Queensland’s Fire and Emergency Service warned they could not risk sending their firefighters interstate.
More than 55 fires across the state are still burning and firefighters continue to strengthen containment lines as they brace for potentially dangerous conditions from tomorrow into the weekend.
A firefighter wets down the roof of a property at Tahmoor as the enormous blaze approaches
‘We just do not have the capacity to send people to help at the moment,’ a Queensland Fire and Emergency Service spokesman said.
‘In fact, we may have to seek help from other states if conditions worsen in Queensland.’
Conditions are also worsening at Currowan, on the NSW South Coast, where at 3pm a fire was upgraded to watch and act stage.
Balmoral, 150 kilometres south of Sydney, has been one of the worst hit towns in Thursday fires
Earlier on Thursday, Ms Berejiklian declared a state of emergency, as temperatures in Sydney’s far west hit 45C.
There are concerns the Gospers Mountain fire, ravaging the northern end of the Blue Mountains National Park, could meet the Green Wattle Creek blaze to the south.
Firefighters battled in vain to stop the fire from jumping the Bells Line of Road at Berambing – which runs east to west through the national park.
An RFS member assesses the extent of the fire as he tries desperately to save a property in the NSW Blue Mountains
‘It roared over the road, destroying power lines and cutting the various Fire Brigade resources in half stuck on either side of the fire,’ The Sydney Morning Herald reported from the scene.
The Blue Mountains Line has also been closed in its outer-western stretch between Lithgow and Mount Victoria as a fire threatens the rail corridor in between the two stations at Bell.
Those in the town of Bilpin, meanwhile, are bracing for the fire to reach their homes by this evening.
An air tanker drops water on the fire at Bargo, where residents have been told its too late to leave
The New South Wales Rural Fire Service said Thursday’s horrendous conditions will be amplified by volatile winds sweeping through the area.
With central Sydney again choking in smoke, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a state of emergency on Thursday morning for the next seven days.
During a press conference, she said the ‘decision to declare a state of emergency is not taken lightly.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a state of emergency earlier on Thursday, ahead of what was predicted to be one of the most dangerous bushfire days in the state’s history
With dozens of properties now lost in the fire, firefighters have turned their focus to protecting humans and livestock
On a day where temperatures were forecast to hit 45C, winds in the Blue Mountains reached 100km/h
‘You only declare states of emergency when it’s absolutely necessary and on expert advice from commissioners.’
It is the second state of emergency she has declared since the start of this year’s horror bushfire season. Six people have died and more than 800 homes have been lost.
Ms Berejiklian said they weren’t expecting conditions to be as catastrophic as they were during the previous state of emergency on November 11.
Prior to the November 11 declaration, NSW had not faced a state of emergency since October 2013.
The announcement relinquishes decision making powers from the NSW government and allows Commissioner Fitzsimmons more control over his team of firefighters.
For the next seven days during the state of emergency, he has the ability to control and coordinate the allocation of government resources, close roads and evacuate residents.
A bushfire burns along the Old Hume Highway near the town of Tahmoor, south of Sydney, on Thursday afternoon
Pictured: Bushfires ravage Bells Line of Road at Mt Wilson in the Blue Mountains
Pictured: The out-of-control Green Wattle Creek bushfire burning near Braddocks Rd, Werombi, on December 5
This marks just the fifth state of emergency declared since 2006.
The floods in 2012, both in Queensland and NSW, warranted an emergency warning, as did bushfires in October 2013.
Other natural disasters, including the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, didn’t result in an emergency warning.
At midday on Thursday, north-westerly 40kmh winds are expected to sweep the Gospers Mountain blaze in the path of the Green Wattle Creek fire.
By 2pm – when the sweltering heat is predicted to be at its worst – both fires will be pushed towards Sydney by westerly winds.
If the blazes join, already fatigued firefighters will face their toughest test yet in what has been a devastating bushfire season so far.
The Sydney Opera House is seen as commuters ride the Manly Ferry during a day of predicted hot weather in Sydney
Last week the two fires were about 25km apart, a gap which had closed to 14km by Wednesday night.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s Neil Bennett said a ‘dome’ of hot air was over the country on Thursday and Great Sydney, where the fires are raging, will hit 45C.
‘There is a significant burst of heat, grading from the coast to the Western Plains, so we would be looking at temperatures of 40C for the CBD,’ he told the ABC.
‘As we move out towards Parramatta we’re looking at 42C.
‘Once you get to the foothills out towards Penrith you’re looking at temperatures of 45C.’
What does a state of emergency mean?
Declaring a state of emergency relinquishes decision making powers from the NSW government and allows RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons more control over his team of firefighters.
For the next seven days during the state of emergency, can now control and coordinate the allocation of government resources, close roads and evacuate residents.
Ms Fitzsimmons now has the ability to:
- Control and coordinate the allocation of government resources
- Evacuate people from property within declared areas
- Close roads and thoroughfares to traffic
- Pull down or shore up infrastructure at risk of collapse
- Shut down utilities in the declared area including electricity, gas, oil and water
- Enter or take possession of property for emergency response
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian held a press conference held on Thursday morning, where she said the ‘decision to declare a state of emergency is not taken lightly.
‘You only declare states of emergency when it’s absolutely necessary and on expert advice from commissioners.’
It is the second state of emergency she has declared since the start of this year’s horror bushfire season, which has seen six people die and more than 800 homes lost.
Ms Berejiklian said they weren’t expecting conditions to be as catastrophic as they were during the previous state of emergency.
The sun shines through bushfire haze next to the Sydney Opera House on Thursday morning
Passengers ride the Manly ferry during hot weather in Sydney on Thursday morning
Pictured: Plumes of smoke fill the air and linger above the Blue Mountains
An anonymous firefighter with more than two decades experience told The Daily Telegraph the Green Wattle Creek fire could have been controlled two weeks ago – but crews were moved elsewhere.
He said management told the firefighters the blaze was ‘too dangerous’, but those on the frontline thought they could have extinguished the flames.
‘The senior fire fighters like those guys are used to going into these locations, they are used to putting themselves on the line,’ he said.
The Gospers Mountain fire, burning in the Wollemi National Park area in the northern Blue Mountains, is more than 415,000 hectares in size and raging out of control
‘They didn’t think it was too dangerous. They told me they had it pretty well rounded up but they were told to leave.’
At 11.30pm on Wednesday, the huge Gospers Mountain blaze north-west of Sydney, was at Watch and Act with all other fires at the Advice alert level.
There were 96 bush or grass fires burning across NSW, with 53 not yet contained.
NSW RFS said: ‘More than 2,000 personnel are currently working overnight to slow the spread of fire before deteriorating conditions tomorrow.’
A firefighter works at the scene of the Gospers Mountain bushfire on December 15
THE FORECAST IN YOUR CITY
THURSDAY: Min 19. Max 35. Cloudy.
FRIDAY: Min 20. Max 26. Cloudy.
SATURDAY: Min 21. Max 37. Sunny.
SUNDAY: Min 20. Max 24. Cloudy.
THURSDAY: Min 20. Max 30. Sunny.
FRIDAY: Min 19. Max 33. Sunny.
SATURDAY: Min 21. Max 33. Sunny.
SUNDAY: Min 27. Max 35. Sunny.
THURSDAY: Min 23. Max 41. Sunny.
FRIDAY: Min 28. Max 44. Sunny.
SATURDAY: Min 18. Max 25. Cloudy.
SUNDAY: Min 12. Max 28. Cloudy.
THURSDAY: Min 19. Max 26. Cloudy.
FRIDAY: Min 17. Max 26. Sunny.
SATURDAY: Min. 17. Max 34. Sunny.
SUNDAY: Min. 20. Max 30. Sunny.
THURSDAY: Min 19. Max 23. Cloudy.
FRIDAY: Min 14. Max 41. Sunny.
SATURDAY: Min 19. Max 23. Cloudy.
SUNDAY: Min 12. Max 20. Cloudy.
THURSDAY: Min 18. Max 41. Sunny.
FRIDAY: Min 14. Max 39. Sunny.
SATURDAY: Min 17. Max 43. Sunny.
SUNDAY: Min 15. Max 33. Sunny.
THURSDAY: Min 26. Max 36. Showers.
FRIDAY: Min 27. Max 35. Showers.
SATURDAY: Min 26. Max 35. Cloudy.
SUNDAY: Min 26. Max 34. Cloudy.
THURSDAY: Min 15. Max 23. Cloudy.
FRIDAY: Min 10. Max 33. Sunny.
SATURDAY: Min 17. Max 23. Cloudy.
SUNDAY: Min 10. Max 20. Cloudy.
Source: Bureau of Meteorology
An extreme fire danger rating was issued for the Greater Sydney, the Illawarra and Southern Ranges areas, while all other areas are rated at high, very high or severe levels.
Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra were all forecast to surpass 40C on Thursday, following the hottest Australian day on record on Tuesday.
The average national temperature climbed to 40.9C eclipsing the record of 40.3C set in January 2013.
This record could be broken again with intense heat expected across most of Australia on Thursday and Friday.
An extreme fire danger rating has been issued for the Greater Sydney, Illawarra/Shoalhaven and Southern Ranges areas, while all other areas are rated at high, very high or severe levels. ‘Any fire that starts and takes hold will threaten lives and homes,’ NSW RFS said. Pictured: Smoke from Gospers Mountain fire
‘Conditions will be dangerous due to high temperatures, strong and gusty winds and low humidity,’ the NSW RFS said ahead of Thursday with this ‘prediction’ map
Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned the state would face significant bushfire risk on Thursday and Saturday with the potential for ‘exceedingly concerning’ winds to blow embers well ahead of fire fronts.
‘Not only are we going to experience very high temperatures on Thursday and Saturday but there’s the exceedingly concerning wind conditions,’ she said on Wednesday.
‘We’re going to have a number of wind fronts escalating the fuel, the fires burning, and the potential to have spot fires and embers travelling very long distances.
‘It’s going to mean very unpredictable fire conditions.’
Commissioner Fitzsimmons said fire behaviour is forecast to be ‘erratic and significant’ due to the volatile winds blowing across the state.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned the state would face significant bushfire risk on Thursday and Saturday with the potential for ‘exceedingly concerning’ winds to blow embers well ahead of fire fronts. Pictured: Green Wattle Creek bushfire
At midday on Thursday, northwesterly winds will sweep the Gospers Mountain blaze in the path of the Green Wattle Creek fire at windspeeds of 40km/h. By 2pm – when the sweltering heat is expected to be at its worse – both fires will be pushed towards Sydney. Pictured: Gospers Mountain fire
‘The heat will start moving through NSW on Thursday and conditions will worsen on Saturday,’ Mr Fitzsimmons told reporters.
‘We can expect the winds to be up and conditions to be at their peak very early in the morning and we’ll have high sustained fire dangers for something like 15 hours.’
A statewide total fire ban was in place from Wednesday morning through to midnight on Saturday.
Six people have died and some 768 homes have been destroyed by bushfires this fire season. Pictured: Gospers Mountain fire
The Gospers Mountain blaze (pictured) destroyed up to 20 buildings in the upper Blue Mountains on the weekend after firefighters lost control of a backburning operation and the fire jumped containment lines
Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said complacency is the biggest threat.
‘Just because you haven’t seen a fire at the end of your street, just because you can’t see smoke in your suburb, doesn’t mean that you are not at risk,’ he told reporters.
There will be 3000 firefighters working on Saturday, the minister said.
The Gospers Mountain blaze destroyed up to 20 buildings in the upper Blue Mountains on the weekend after firefighters lost control of a backburning operation and the fire jumped containment lines.
Authority’s warnings amid NSW heatwave
The state’s Heatwave Sub Plan has been activated following the prediction of heatwave conditions across NSW this week, with temperatures predicted to reach 40 degrees in Sydney – higher in other areas.
It is recognised that heatwaves have an impact on multiple facets of public safety, including health, animal welfare, energy infrastructure, roads and transport, as well as increased risk of fire.
The activation of the Heatwave Sub Plan allows certain government agencies to ensure increased coordination in emergency management.
The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting temperatures will peak on Saturday (21 December 2019), with Sydney CBD expected to reach the mid-30s, while Western Sydney and many parts of inland Regional NSW will experience temperatures in the low to mid 40s.
Further, the Bureau of Meteorology has advised that the smoke in eastern NSW will gradually clear with the southerly change, but some inland areas may see an increase in smoke due to south-easterly winds.
Saturday is expected to be a busy day throughout the Sydney Metropolitan area with Christmas shopping, beach travel and Carols in the Domain, and it is also expected many people may set off for their Christmas/school holidays.
We are asking the public to adhere to heat messages, keep their cool, and look out for each other.
The following message details important whole-of-government information for the people of NSW.
Rural Fire Service:
We continue to face an unprecedented level of bush fire danger. An extreme fire danger rating has been issued for the Greater Sydney, Illawarra/Shoalhaven and Southern Ranges areas. All other areas are rated at high, very high or severe levels.
Any fire that starts and takes hold will threaten lives and homes.
A Total Fire Ban is in place for the whole of the state.
Under these conditions, some fires may start and spread so quickly there is little time for a warning, so do not wait and see.
There are simply not enough fire trucks for every house. If you call for help, you may not get it.
Do not expect a firetruck. Do not expect a knock on the door. Do not expect a phone call. Start taking action now to reduce your risk.
Avoid bush fire prone areas. If your home is in a bush fire prone area, the safest option is to not be there. Do not travel through bushland areas.
Leaving is the safest option for your survival. If you plan to leave, leave early.
Stay up to date on fires in your area. People are urged to download the ‘Fires Near Me’ app: https://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/fire-information/fires-near-me
If you are threatened by fire, you need to take action to protect yourself. Do not be caught in the open.
Everyone needs to take care in hot weather, but some people are more susceptible to the health effects of heatwaves include: the elderly, infants and young children, people who have to work in hot conditions, people on certain medications, people who are unwell or have chronic illness and people who live alone or are socially-isolated.
Signs of heat-related illness include confusion, dizziness, fainting, nausea, vomiting, weakness, headaches heavy or loss of sweating, muscle cramps, dry swollen tongue, rapid pulse and rapid shallow breathing.
If you can, it’s a good idea to spend some time in an air-conditioned building.
People showing any of these signs should seek urgent medical attention through their GP or local emergency department.
People are also being encouraged to take extra precautions to protect themselves against the bushfire smoke. NSW Health is particularly reminding the elderly and parents and carers of young children to stay indoors, shut windows and where possible postpone outdoor activities.
People with asthma should follow their asthma action plans and make sure they are carrying their reliever medication.
Be aware of potential hazards such as embers, falling debris, damage to surroundings and reduced visibility which can cause injury.
Paramedics are urging people in fire affected areas to wear any form of eyewear and loose clothing to cover your skin to assist in reducing any incidental injury.
NSW Ambulance recommends if anyone sustains any form of burn they should cool the affected area immediately with water – ideally running water – for a minimum of 20 minutes (for eyes ensure you flush the eye) and seek medical attention.
It is important that people really take care of themselves. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, make sure you have all your medications with you and readily available at all times.
People with any respiratory issues, or who are particularly vulnerable, can be the first to feel the effects of smoke which may aggravate their existing condition. Even healthy adults and children can be impacted by the effects of heavy smoke which can result in lung irritation.
These conditions can have a serious impact on your health and it is important to remember that our bodies have to work extra hard to cope or cool down. Ensure you stay hydrated and pay particular attention to any symptoms (dizziness, headaches, racing pulse or nausea) of heat related illness.
NSW Ambulance is always here to help – never be afraid to call Triple Zero (000).
State Emergency Service
Strong winds may impact NSW from Thursday across the weekend. Take the time now to prepare your home or property and be aware of weather conditions:
Fire and Rescue NSW:
A statewide Total Fire Ban is now in effect through now until midnight Saturday 21 December 2019, due to hot and dry conditions across NSW. If you see an unattended fire, please call Triple Zero (000) immediately.
This means you cannot light, maintain or use a fire in the open, or to carry out any activity in the open that causes, or is likely to cause, a fire.
To prepare your home for dangerous fire weather, clean out your gutters and remove piles of rubbish, weeds and leaf matter.
If you have a pool, tank or dam, put a Static Water Supply (SWS) sign on your property entrance so that our firefighters and the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) can easily identify water supplies.
If you are in a bushfire affected area, please enact your Bush Fire Survival Plan.
NSW Police Force:
With high temperatures expected in the city and hotter out west; we are asking commuters to keep their cool. Traffic delays and the heat generally has the potential to frustrate drivers with slower conditions on the road; so please be patient.
We know many people will want to head to the beach, a local swimming hole or swim in your backyard pool. Please be careful. Keep a watchful eye over children especially when they are near the water – all children need to be supervised.
While a southerly change is expected tonight (Thursday 19 December 2019), it is anticipated this may also have the potential for damaging winds. Take time now to secure lose items like garden furniture and trampolines. If you need help call emergency services.
The best advice is if you don’t need to be out – stay at home.
Above all, look after yourself and those around you. If you need assistance call Triple Zero (000).