NSW wildfires: danger day looms, 'lives will be at risk'

Smoke with an orange tint has been blanketing the sky in New South Wales. Photo: Laura Begbie via...
Smoke with an orange tint has been blanketing the sky in New South Wales. Photo: Laura Begbie via Reuters
Firefighters are desperately trying to control devastating bushfires across New South Wales before a "dangerous day" of weather forecast for Tuesday. The Rural Fire Service warns "lives will be at risk".

As the Australian state begins to count the devastating cost of the fires, three people have been confirmed dead and there are fears that number could rise. Five people missing have been located.

Conditions have eased on Sunday, and firefighters are now racing to contain the fires, as the RFS says Tuesday will likely see widespread severe and extreme fire danger from the Queensland border to the south coast and across the central west.

"Tuesday 12 November will be a dangerous day," it tweeted. "With so many fires already burning, homes and lives will be at risk."

On Sunday, 72 fires were burning across NSW, 36 of which were not under control. Eleven fires remain at a watch and act level.

RFS Inspector Ben Shepherd says fire crews are doing all they can to control blazes already burning before Tuesday.

"We are looking down the barrel of a busy few days and potentially a dangerous day come Tuesday," he told Seven News on Sunday.

"We're trying to get as many of these fires under control before the onset of that weather on Tuesday, but look we won't have these fires under control by that stage we'll have to concentrate where it is burning close to residential areas."

In the meantime, RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says assessment teams are bracing themselves for "considerable losses".

"There are communities and fire grounds where we are expecting to tally up considerable losses of homes and other properties," he said.

"A number of our own fire stations have been destroyed."

At least 150 homes have been destroyed by the fires, although this number is likely to climb as detailed assessments begin.

Mr Fitzsimmons said other important community assets had also been lost in the fires.

"We're talking about schools being destroyed, we're talking about community halls, bridges, power poles," he said.

"All of those sorts of things - they get consumed in the path of a volatile fast-moving fire."

Fire assessment teams would comb through devastated areas over the coming days, Mr Fitzsimmons said.

"The more forensic process of getting in and doing the detailed assessments will come over coming days.

"Clearly, from what we are seeing, and we do not have indicative assessments from all these fire grounds yet, but estimates are at least 150."

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria were all sending reinforcements to help the state fight fires.

The premier on Sunday said the federal and state governments had already moved to put disaster relief arrangements in place.

"I want to assure communities throughout the mid and north coast no matter in which way they've been impacted, we know for some people they've lost everything, for some people they've lost a loved one ... no matter what anyone's circumstances please know we're here to support you," Ms Berejiklian told Seven News.

An estimated 2000 people have used the more than 15 formal evacuation centres set up.

The RFS will also coordinate relief work with the Australian Defence Force.

A woman who died as she tried to flee the weekend's devastating bushfires has been identified by NewsCorp on Sunday as 63-year-old Julie Fletcher.

Ms Fletcher's body was discovered on Saturday night in a burnt-out home in the town of Johns River some 40km north of Taree on the mid-north coast.

She had packed her bags and her car to try and escape the fire, however didn't make it out in time, the Daily Telegraph has reported.

Wytaliba resident Vivian Chaplain (69) has also been named as one of the victims.

She was treated for burns before being transferred to a Sydney hospital where she later died, the RFS said on Saturday.

An elderly man from Wytaliba is also believed to have been a victim.

It is one of Australia's worst bushfire seasons and is occurring even before the start of the Southern Hemisphere summer, with parts of the country already crippled by severe drought.

NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said little reprieve in fire conditions could be expected over the next week or throughout the summer months of December, January and February.

"The forecast for the balance of the season continues to be driven by above-normal temperatures (and) below-average rainfall to dominate over the coming months," Fitzsimmons said.

QUEENSLAND FIRES RAGE

In Queensland, massive bushfires that have destroyed houses, sheds and cars and forced thousands to flee their homes continue to burn.

Fifty-one fires were burning in the state on Sunday, with the worst an enormous blaze north of Rockhampton where homes and sheds have been damaged or destroyed.

People fled from it in cars and on horseback overnight after the Cobraball and Bungundarra fires joined.

Now 14km long and 6km wide, it was bearing down on Adelaide Park at 10am on Sunday with residents told it was too late to leave.

Sixteen structures, including homes and sheds, have been damaged or destroyed by the Cobraball fire but there has been no loss of life.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warned Queenslanders that the worst was not over.

"We are not out of the woods yet because there is going to be constant fire danger over the next week, right up until Friday, with Wednesday being a very serious day," she told reporters.

Thousands of residents have been evacuated due to fires, the most on Saturday from a huge fire at Cooroibah, north of Noosa, where an emergency zone remains.

The fire has razed parts of Cooroibah, Ringtail Creek, Tewantin, Noosa Banks and Noosa North Shore.

Conditions remained unpredictable on Sunday with most residents advised it was still too dangerous to return home.

Residents of Tewantin have returned home and Noosa North Shore inhabitants might be able to on Sunday afternoon.

Acting Fire Commissioner Mike Wassing said their focus on Sunday was on Cobraball near Yeppoon.

"That's a really active fire and again today will cause a lot of problems," he told reporters.

"That fire, beyond Wednesday and Thursday, that will be our next issue up there. We have still got a lot of active fire and a lot of fire risk ahead of us."

Yeppoon resident John McGrath said the scale and power of the fire reminded him of seeing the 2003 Canberra bushfires that burned 550 houses down.

"I met teenagers in shock as 1km away their house burnt down, and were worried sick for their parents trying to stop it were safe," he posted on Facebook.

State Disaster Coordinator Steve Gollschewski said there were no missing persons and no injuries to the public other than a burn on Saturday.

Some firefighters have suffered heat exhaustion, one broke a leg and another had an ankle injury.

One house has been lost at Cooroibah on the Sunshine Coast along with three sheds, cars and wildlife.

A state of fire emergency was declared on Saturday in 42 local government areas, prohibiting all outdoor fires and activities such as welding that can spark fires.

People were also told to evacuate ahead of bushfires at Tarome in the Scenic Rim west of the Gold Coast and Thornton in the Lockyer Valley on Saturday but those warnings have been downgraded.

- AAP and Reuters 

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