Some fire bans lifted as conditions ease across NSW
UPDATE: FIRE bans have been lifted on the North Coast and the fire threat level lowered across much of the state as conditions ease after the hellish conditions faced by firefighters in the Blue Mountains yesterday.
The Rural Fire Service now has no blazes listed at the "emergency" level, although there remain many fires burning out of control around the state and four - three in the Blue Mountains and one in the Illawarra - listed as "watch and act".
On the Northern Rivers and Mid-North Coast alike, the Bureau of Meteorology is tipping isolated showers through the day with the chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon.
Temperatures on the Northern Rivers are expected to reach into the high 20s and low 30s, while on the Mid-North Coast they are not expected get past the mid-to-high 20s.
The entire north east corner of NSW remains on a "very high" fire danger warning, as does the Hunter, Greater Sydney, and the Illawarra. However, apart from those areas and the Central Ranges, fire bans have been lifted across the state.
The improved conditions come as the Rural Fire Service points the finger at the Department of Defence as the cause of the huge State Mine Fire in the Blue Mountains, which has destroyed 47,000 hectares of bushland along with three homes, damaged a fourth and several sheds or businesses.
In his 7am briefing this morning, RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said Defence worked closely with firefighters searching for the cause of the State Mine Fire.
"I don't think they've ever shied away from their initial thoughts that they may have been responsible for this," he said.
Mr Fitzsimmons warned the situation in the Blue Mountains, while improved, could easily change for the worse.
"We are expecting right across the Blue Mountains region particularly today, very strong, very dry southwesterly winds ranging 45, 70, 80km/h and those winds will start to strengthen as the morning rolls on and we'll see the peak of them around lunchtime/early afternoon," he said.
October 23: ON DAYS like these, minutes could mean the difference between life or death.
That's how NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons summed up the treacherous conditions facing the army of fire fighters battling out of control blazes across NSW.
Residents in the Blue Mountains had been warned the worst weather since the fire start of the bushfire crisis was headed their way-most had packed up their loved ones and pets and fled by Tuesday night but despite warnings to evacuate, some families stayed behind.
There was nothing for them to do than defend their properties.
Every school was shut, every shop closed.
Residents who got out when they could, were urged to stay with friends and family in other parts of the state but for those who had nowhere to run to, sporting clubs at Penrith, became makeshift hotels.
By Wednesday night no homes or lives had been lost in the past 24 hours but the predicated 90km plus winds and mid 30 temperatures had make their mark.
Six fires were threatening properties across the state.
Near Newcastle, a fire fanned by strong winds was forcing evacuations at Redhead and Dudley.
Parents of fifteen children, who were trapped in a hall at a local school, faced a torturous wait for roads to the school to be declared safe.
A NSW RFS spokesperson said the children were safe and urged parents not to try and pick them up until the roads were clear.
The Pacific Hwy was expected to be closed at Raymond Terrace.
An emergency warning was in place for that fire and two others - one at Lake Macquarie and the major blaze threatening the Blue Mountains.
Three helicopters, including a water bombing sky crane, flown to Australia from Greece earlier this month, were working at the two major Blue Mountains fire fronts, which were threatening homes in the already devastated towns of Springwood and Falconbridge.
Three other fires at Lake Macquarie, Lithgow and the Southern Highlands had been downgraded to watch and act status.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Com Fitzsimmons confirmed no homes had been lost but "a lot of fire activity" and flare ups on properties were challenging firefighters in the Blue Mountains.
He said fire-fighters from NSW, Queensland and Victoria continued to risk their lives because they knew they " sitting around and doing nothing wasn't an option".
Hot winds were predicted until about midnight when a southerly change was expected to bring cooler temperatures.
Com Fitzsimmons said with the rain predicted, the threat was still unlikely to ease and warned it could be "days, weeks or months" before Mother Nature was finished.
At least 208 homes have burned since last Thursday.
Total fire bans remain in place for Sydney, the Central Coast, Greater Hunter, Illawarra and Central Ranges.
Updates can be found at rfs.nsw.gov.au.