BUSHFIRE UPDATE: Total fire bans for Hunter

5.32pm: Fairfax reporter Nick Ralston reports from the Blue Mountains: Standing with Barry O'Farrell as a state of emergency is declared, NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says NSW is now in "uncharted territory". 

He said you have to go back "decades and decades" to find any fires similar to this, and even then they might not be of the same magnitude.

"The sorts of damage, destruction, loss and devastation that we've witnessed in the last 48 hours is typically aligned to what you would see in December of January, when we've seen the middle of the summer period and when we've seen our worst summer fire conditions.

"To find any parallel ... you've got to go back to the '68 fires ... what is fundamentally different today is that there are a hell of a lot more people settled across these at risk area than there was in the 50s and the 60s."

The last time a state of emergency was declared was in March 2012 to cope with devastating floods. This declaration will last for 30 days.

Premier O'Farrell says these include the right to order the public to leave or to enter an area, the right to demolish a building and prevents people from disobeying an order given under these powers.

It is an offence to obstruct or disobey these orders.

10.30am: RFS reports: The Ruttleys Road Fire has now been listed as contained with the completion of a number of back burns overnight near the Pacific Highway and Elizabeth Bay Drive, Lake Munmorah, and also in the Munmorah State Conservation Area. 

About 50 firefighters from the NSWRFS and NPWS will continue to mop up, black out and patrol the entire fire today with the assistance of water bombing helicopters if required. 

A FRNSW strike team is currently on standby at Doyalson if needed and all out of area crews have been stood down to return to their own districts with thanks for their efforts in our area. 

The current alert level for the fire is ‘Advice’ and residents should continue to remain vigilant, follow their Bush Fire Survival Plan and monitor the situation in particular patrolling their properties for embers as it is likely that there may be some hotspots for some time

Earlier reports :

THE NSW Rural Fire Service has reminded residents in fire-affected areas of the Hunter to remain vigilant as total fire bans were issued across parts of NSW on Saturday.

The total fire bans will cover the Greater Hunter, Greater Sydney (including the Blue Mountains and Central Coast areas), Illawarra/Shoalhaven and Central Ranges from midnight tonight until further notice, with more hot and windy conditions forecast in the coming days.

Temperatures are expected to reach between 29 and 34 degrees in parts of the Hunter on Sunday, while temperatures could reach up to 37 degrees around Singleton on Monday. Newcastle is expecting a top of 30 degrees on Monday, with north-easterly winds of up 25 to 35km/h in the late afternoon.

The fire at Heatherbrae has been downgraded to advice status, according to emergency services.

The Hank Street Fire, which has been burning since last Sunday, and has burnt more than 5000 hectares of bushland.

This fire is being controlled but is still active and is currently burning in the area of Tomago Road, near the industrial development. 

Crews have been conducting backburning and containment is now at about 90 per cent.

There is potential for the fire to spread into the Botanical Gardens if containment lines are breached.

The fire has burnt along Richardson Road, Medowie Road, Grahamstown Road, Lisadell Road, Ferodale Road, Hank Street and Tomago Road.

Motorists are urged to avoid all bush fire affected areas. For the latest traffic information, visit www.livetraffic.com or call 132 701.

Meanwhile, the Ruttleys Road fire has just been downgraded from "watch and act" to "advice". Smoke and fire activity has significantly reduced across the fireground, however there are still a number of areas being attended to by emergency service crews. 

Residents should remain vigilant for embers and continue to monitor the situation.

According the Rural Fire service, the threat to properties has reduced in Chain Valley Bay North, Gwandalan and Summerland Point following successful backburning operations.

Firefighters are continuing to backburn in the Munmorah State Conservation Area from the Pacific Highway to Birdie Beach Drive. There is a potential threat to properties in Elizabeth Bay Drive, Lake Munmorah. About 80 firefighters are on scene.

There are reports that some properties have been damaged or destroyed.

Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said bushfire prone residents across the state should brace for deteriorating conditions.

‘‘The optimism we had of widespread rain seems to be disappearing and at best we’re talking about some showers across different areas later in the week,’’ Mr Fitzsimmons told reporters at Catherine Hill Bay.

‘‘We’re looking ahead to not just Sunday and Monday but right through to Tuesday and Wednesday and even beyond for continuing challenging and difficult times.

‘‘I do expect much of NSW ... [will] see very high or above fire dangers on a number of those days.’’

NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell said it was ‘‘extraordinary to see from the air’’ how the firefighters had managed to battle the fire at Wyong that impacted the beachside hamlet of Catherine Hill Bay.

"[There’s] great praise for those firefighters who tackled this fire ... you come here and see how little damage has been done despite the loss of historic premises,’’ he said.

In the Blue Mountains, firefighters are struggling against a large bushfire as they try to save homes in an area where almost 200 properties have already been destroyed.

Authorities have assessed 95 per cent of the affected area at Springwood and Winmalee, confirming 192 properties have been destroyed and another 109 damaged.

The Rural Fire Service (RFS) warns the number of damaged or destroyed properties may rise.

A hospital at Springwood was on Saturday evacuated ahead of an expected worsening in conditions on Sunday, with temperatures in the low 30s expected for parts of NSW.

Patients were taken to the Nepean Hospital in Penrith and are expected to stay there until at least Wednesday.

Firefighters had hoped calmer and cooler temperatures on Saturday would help control fires across the state, but blazes in and around the Blue Mountains have flared up.

Two emergency warnings, the highest level of alert, were issued by the RFS on Saturday.

One was for a fire at Lithgow covering more than 32,600 hectares and the other for about 2150 hectares at Springwood.Roads have been closed in both areas.

A watch and act alert remains in place for a fire burning across more than 1000 hectares at Mt Victoria and a blaze at Balmoral in the Southern Highlands spanning more than 9300 hectares.

Fire caused about $4 million damage to the Blue Mountains’ historic Zig Zag Railway, which was close to reopening after being closed in June last year for safety upgrades. Ten carriages, accommodation carriages, historic sleeping carriages, a meeting room, workshop, office and sleepers are among the items damaged.

Elsewhere, crews have been redirected from back-burning operations to protect more than 100 homes near Lithgow in Bell, Dargan, Berambing and Bilpin that were now under threat, RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.

‘‘This fire is by no means contained,’’ Mr Rogers said.The RFS advises people in the area to seek shelter.

Mr Rogers described conditions as ‘‘OK’’, but said it would likely warm up on Sunday and winds could strengthen on Monday.

No reprieve is expected until at least Tuesday, when showers may fall across the central and southern coasts.

Meanwhile, the defence department is investigating whether there’s a link between the Lithgow fire and an explosives training exercise at the Marrangaroo training area on Wednesday.

An RFS spokesman said there were no fire bans in place during the training exercise and that it occurred a day before extreme conditions were expected.

Premier Barry O’Farrell said ‘‘there was no suggestion’’ that the explosives testing had sparked the blaze.The premier also had to deal with other explosions.

While visiting the RFS command centre in Wyong, he was confronted by an angry resident who said she almost died in a bushfire due to insufficient back-burning.

‘‘Excuse me Mr O’Farrell, I almost died on Thursday night, the reason being National Parks and Wildlife does not do perimeter burning on their property,’’ Crangan Bay resident Sandra Kay said.

Mr O’Farrell said he would take her concerns to the local council and to parliament.

The Salvation Army is asking for people to donate cash, rather than goods, to its bushfire appeal. More than $300,000 dollars has already been raised.

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