An out of control bushfire is threatening to jump containment lines in western Sydney and could start burning through suburban areas, firefighters have warned.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says the 264,000-hectare Green Wattle Creek bushfire on Sydney’s southwestern outskirts is a priority on Saturday, as temperatures soar across much of the state and winds pick up.
“There is potential for the fire to break out, cross the (Warragamba) dam and move into the western suburbs of Sydney,” Mr Fitzsimmons told reporters on Saturday morning.
“It has the potential to come out into more populated areas this afternoon.”
If the fire broke containment lines, suburbs at risk could include The Oaks, Mowbray Park, Picton and surrounds.
Mr Fitzsimmons said crews have been working around the clock to contain the Green Wattle Creek blaze, but urged people in the vicinity to be on high alert.
“Crews have been doing extraordinary work with backburning and the use of aircraft and machinery on the ground to try and lock that in,” he said.
“That’s one of our focus fires, of course, but I would say as a broader message be alert, be focused on any new fires today.”
NSW Rural Fire Service assistant fire behaviour analyst Andrew Nicholls said conditions are expected to rapidly change throughout the day.
“Fire conditions are going to ramp up really quickly,” he told AAP in Moruya. “The difference between 9am and 11am will be huge.”
The south-easterly change is due to come in from 5pm in Narooma, 6pm in Moruya and 8pm in Nowra.
“It’ll be something like 30km/h and there will be some areas that will gust at 50km/h,” Mr Nicholls said.
Hot temperatures into the 40s are forecast but a thick blanket of smoke might bring temperatures down, he said.
“There is such a thick blanket of smoke it might take down the temperatures from 43C back down to 38 or 35C.”
The RFS is also warning of the increased danger of ember attacks today, particularly at the foot of the Blue Mountains, on Sydney’s outskirts. Further south, ember attacks are a huge risk in Batemans Bay and the Snowy Mountains.
Other bushland areas in Sydney are on high alert today, including the Royal National Park and several other parks and campgrounds, which are closed today due to the elevated fire risk.
NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers warned more homes would likely be lost in the next 12 hours, but insisted the state was as prepared as was possible.
“We are unfortunately very likely to lose homes [on Saturday] but we will be very happy and call it a success if there are no lives lost,” he said.
“We are ready to respond to whatever the day throws at us.”
Eleven people have died in NSW and Victoria since Monday, with a further 21 listed as missing. So far, more than 1300 homes have been lost and 3.6 million hectares of land has been scorched.
In the past 48 hours, tens of thousands of people in the most at risk areas have fled their homes, enduring long drives through dangerous conditions with dwindling fuel and limited supplies of food and water, but Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton said tens of thousands chose to remain in their homes and are still at risk.
Others have been evacuated with the help of the Royal Australian Navy, which has so far rescued nearly 1000 people from the Victorian town of Mallacoota.
Extreme fire danger is forecast for six fire districts in NSW’s southeast and the ACT, including the Illawarra/Shoalhaven, Far South Coast, Monaro Alpine, Southern Ranges, Southern Slopes and Eastern Riverina regions, while severe conditions are forecast for Sydney, the Hunter and the central ranges.
Temperatures will rises into the 40s in many areas across the state and wind gusts are expected to reach up to 80km/h.
There are some 137 bushfires burning in NSW on Saturday morning, with around 60 uncontained.
More than 3000 firefighters are on the frontline, with 31 specialist strike teams in place across NSW.