Long night ahead as fire threat continues

Fires continue to burn across Australia.
Fires continue to burn across Australia.

Out-of-control bushfires will continue to pose a threat to regional communities tonight after a day of horror fire conditions, particularly in NSW.

As a cool change works its way along the east coast of the nation, firefighters will be focusing their efforts on several key fires:

In total, more than 180 fires were burning across NSW, Victoria and Tasmania on Tuesday night, more than 40 of them uncontained.

By 5pm, heatwave conditions in NSW were beginning to ease, but emergency services officials warned that for many areas significant respite from the heat was still many hours away.

One property was lost to fire at Jugiong, west of Yass, while at least two properties were lost to a fire west of Ballarat in Victoria.

Rural Fire Services (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons praised the "extraordinary" firefighting effort taking place in "dirty, hot difficult conditions".

Close to 1500 fire fighters in NSW were battling blazes with thousands more volunteers on standby as temperatures soared on Tuesday, fanned by winds of more than 70km/h in some areas.

At 8pm, the biggest threat for Rural Fire Service resources was at Deans Gap, in the NSW Shoalhaven region.

Fire had burnt 15 hectares, with 13 trucks, three aircraft and 60 firefighters responding to the emergency, fuelled by strong, hot wind gusts that were strong enough to slam a car door by 2pm.

Nearby, the township of Wandandian was told it’s too late to evacuate, while emergency warnings were in place for areas including Bendalong, Cunjurong Point, Sussex Inlet, Swanhaven and Berrara.

Meanwhile a fire in the town of Tarcutta, near Wagga Wagga, had already burned through 500ha of land, while residents of isolated properties to the north-west of town, along Mates Gully Road, were told to stay and protect themselves from radient heat as it was too late to leave.

The Hume Highway was cut nearby, almost halfway between Sydney and Melbourne.

The fire service's third biggeset priority was at Yarrabin, in the Cooma-Monaro local area, where a fire had destroyed 4,400ha of land, with 64 firefighters, nine aircraft and 14 trucks still battling the blaze that threatened homes.

An emergency warning remained in place as of 8.30pm for a fire at Montumana, in Tasmania's north-east which has burnt through more than 1800 hectares.

The communities of Hellyer Beach, Edgcumbe Beach, Crayfish Beach, Rocky Cape were expected to come under threat during the night, the Tasmanian Fire Service said.

An emergency warning was also in place for communities east of Ballarat as a medium-sized grassfire continued to burn out-of-control in the area.

Across NSW at 4pm, there were 437 trucks and 81 fire fighting aircraft in use, with 55,709 hectares razed.Other ‘‘emergency’’ alerts were at Oura, Mates Gully and Munyabla, near Wagga, and Narrandera, southwest of Wagga.

Four of the more than 1,400 firefighters on fire grounds on Tuesday afternoon had been injured, but their conditions were unknown.

In a briefing at 3.30pm, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said a very real threat would remain in some parts, including around Sydney, until after midnight.

‘‘It's very much a moveable feast with many fires still being identified,’’ he said.

‘‘The extraordinary efforts of fire fighters across these areas is seeing many fires dealt with promptly.’’

Emergency Services Minister Michael Gallacher said large parts of NSW would continue to swelter for some time yet.

‘‘It will be hours before we see any respite in those areas that are so affected,’’ he said.

In Sydney, the mercury peaked at 42.3C at Observatory Hill at 2.03pm but out near Broken Hill, in the state’s north west, residents sweltered as a top of 45.1 degrees was recorded.

The far south coast town of Bega was the first place in the state to top 40C, but were also the first to feel the cool change at about 3.30pm.

Temperatures dropped close to 20 degrees in the space of an hour.

All NSW national parks, reserves and state forests are closed to the public due to the fire risk, while the total fire ban has been extended into Wednesday.

A man was charged for breaching the total fire ban in NSW’s Illawarra region after he allegedly lit a cooking fire, and allegedly tried to prevent police from extinguishing it as hot ash fell to the ground.

The 70-year-old property owner is due to appear at Port Kembla Local Court on April 4.

- with James Robertson and Rachel Olding