NSW suffering worst bushfire crisis in years
HOMES are burning, whole towns are being evacuated and more than 100 blazes are being fought across NSW as the state suffers through its worst bushfire crisis in more than a decade.
As the sun went down over the NSW Blue Mountains, water bombing continued and hundreds of firefighters were working to control a fire which was tearing through bush land near Penrith, Springwood, and Winmalee and forcing evacuations at Lithgow and Blackheath.
Lithgow couple Rhonda and Chris Orridge were forced to flee their home with the baby son when their street was evacuated early today.
By late afternoon they were allowed to return home but told to be prepared to leave at any time.
"We've got bush ridges right behind our property so if there is a fire coming - we've got no chance…we are gone," Ms Orridge said.
"But the fire-fighters are working tirelessly and all you can do is wait."
Throughout the day, Ms Orridge and her husband were bombarded with calls from friends and family who had been cut off from each other or were trapped at their homes.
She said the whole town had been impacted and was particularly worried for local high school students, who with the knowledge their homes may not be there by the end of the day, were still forced to sit their HSC exams.
Tonight, all of Ms Orridge's family are accounted for and she is prepared for whatever happened next.
"When you are told to leave - you get what's important and you leave," she said
"What's important is family…everything else can be replaced."
Wind gusts of up to 100kmph are fanning seven major fires, which are at emergency alert status across the Blue Mountains, the Hunter Valley and at Nowra on the south coast.
Homes are believed to have been lost at Port Stephens, where a fire near Heatherbrae closed the Pacific Hwy and Newcastle Airport and Springwood.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has warned "if we get through with less than 100 homes destroyed today, we have been lucky" and says it could be days before some residents are able to return to their towns and survey the damage.
Hundreds of trucks, and a sky crane, flown in from Greece last week are helping with the fire-fighting effort.
Online traffic is causing the NSW Rural Fire Service website to repeatedly crash briefly but a emergency has been set up for anyone needing urgent fire information and door knocking was being carried out in impacted areas.
Updates are available at www.rfs.nsw.gov.au or by calling 1800 227 228.