Exhausted NSW fire crews are bracing for the impact of a southerly change after an exhausting and anxious day that saw 300 fresh fires erupt across the state.
The anticipated gale-force winds associated with a cool change add an extra complication, as the change in direction will turn the flanks of existing fires into new and much larger fronts.
The change is predicted to move north through the Greater Sydney and Greater Hunter regions before reaching Port Macquarie, where a number of the emergency-level blazes are burning, later this evening.
As of 9:00pm AEDT emergency warnings remained in place for nine blazes among the 73 fires still burning around the state.
An emergency warning was issued for South Turramurra near Hornsby in the northern Sydney suburbs on Tuesday afternoon with a catastrophic fire danger rating in place for the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter and Illawarra-Shoalhaven regions.
— Nine.com.au (@Ninecomau) November 12, 2019
It is the first time the catastrophic rating has been used since it was introduced a decade ago.
The South Turramurra blaze was brought under control within two hours of it being reported, but the victory over the raging flames was not without cost.
A firefighter was taken to hospital with a broken arm, while residents returning to Field of Mars Ave found their homes and street heavily dusted with red fire retardent dropped by a fire bomber.
High temperatures, low humidity and strong winds, coupled with a drought-induced dry, have resulted in “horrendous conditions”, according to the NSW Rural Fire Service.
More than 50 fires were raging across NSW late as of sundown, 30 of them uncontained – and millions of hectares were ablaze.
There were emergency warnings for 12 fires, from the NSW mid-north coast to Queensland’s border, as millions of residents faced hideous fire danger.
People in the path of fires are being urged to relocate with a leave warning specifically directed at residents near a blaze in the Wollemi National Park north of Sydney.
“If you are in the area of Mellong, St Albans and Upper MacDonald and your plan is to leave, leave now to a safer location,” the RFS said.
There is also concern regarding a small fire at Llandilo in western Sydney which the RFS deemed out of control.
As the RFS warned catastrophic fire danger had reached Nowra, on the state’s far south coast – the weather bureau warned conditions would get worse before they got better.
But firefighters and the weather bureau said the next few hours would be the most dangerous yet.
Stuart Ellis from the Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council said NSW would not feel the real impact of the weather conditions until later on Tuesday.
“This event will develop late in the day, particularly for Sydney, the Hunter and the Illawarra,” he told ABC TV.
Bureau of Meteorology state manager Ann Farrell said a low-pressure system moving across NSW was bringing “strengthening, hot, dry winds” that would increase the fire danger.
“The conditions are going to get increasingly dangerous throughout the afternoon,” she said.
- For up-to-date fire information, see the NSW RFS website
Catastrophic fire danger has reached as far south as Nowra. Significant winds in the area have brought smoke and dust from the fires elsewhere in the state, as you can see from the video taken at Callala Bay. Please only report fires, not smoke, to Triple Zero (000).
Posted by NSW Rural Fire Service on Monday, November 11, 2019
RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Tuesday was playing out as predicted, with average winds up to 60km/h across the ranges, and gusts of more than 70km/h.
“They will continue to strengthen and build ahead of the passage of that cold front that’s moving across the state,” Mr Fitzsimmons said.
“Later on today, we’re expecting the southerly to start influencing and driving like a southerly buster up the coastal strip, and more southwesterly-southerly across the ranges and further inland.”
Mr Fitzsimmons said firefighters and affected communities faced “a really long night” as winds strengthened.
“This southerly is going to continue through and those strong winds are not going to get to northern areas of NSW until midnight or early the hours of this morning across some of these fire grounds,” he said.
Mr Fitzsimmons said there would unfortunately be no reprieve for firefighters with the southerly change bringing no rain. Warm, dry conditions were also set to dominate in the days – and weeks – ahead.
“As we look out a little bit further, we’re expecting a cyclical pattern of increasing temperatures as we head into the end of this week and indeed as we head into next week,” he said.”
Keep up to date – New South Wales
As at: 1:40 – 12 Nov 2019
There are currently seven  emergency fire warnings in NSW
RFS TV updates https://t.co/Caz8AoCesP
RFS website = https://t.co/8gRH6npqhB
BoM alerts = https://t.co/0opVIxvGPP #up2date #nswfires
— NSW fires (@nswfire) November 12, 2019
Nine NSW schools were evacuated on Tuesday, after more than 600 schools and TAFEs were closed. Childcare centres in high-risk areas were also closed.
Rally Australia, the final round of the World Rally Championship, also was cancelled because of concerns over destructive fires near the venue in the forests around Coffs Harbour.the Coffs Harbour region braced for extreme fire danger.
“We’ve got every firefighter we can get, we’ve got every aircraft we can get, we’ve got military aircraft coming in to help us to look at rescuing people if people are stuck,” Rural Fire Service Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.
“Absolutely everything we can do is being brought to bear.”
There is an extreme fire danger rating – the second highest – for the NSW north coast, southern ranges, central ranges, New England, northern slopes and north-western areas.
A week-long state of emergency has been declared by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has pleaded with people to heed the fire service’s warnings and stay away from bushland.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has said Australian Defence Force personnel would be on standby to provide other support if needed.
Emergency Services Minister David Elliott said residents faced what “could be the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen”.
Fires since Friday have claimed the lives of three people and destroyed at least 150 homes.
It is also estimated that at least 350 koalas have perished in the fires.
Queensland fire threat
Queensland is also bracing for severe fire danger as temperatures soar up to 10 degrees above average in coming days.
Conditions are expected to worsen on Tuesday, with high to very high fire danger forecast and severe conditions expected mid-week.
There are 65 bushfires statewide, with an uncontrolled blaze at Cobraball in central Queensland that by Monday had destroyed eight homes and damaged five.
Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Vince Rowlands said hot, dry and windy conditions were expected to peak on Wednesday. There would be a couple of easier days before the winds strengthened again at the weekend.
Much of the state is suffering “pretty poor air quality” due to smoke. Mr Rowlands said that would remain for some days.
No significant rain is forecast for the next week and long-term predictions are for drier and warmer than average conditions.