Hell on earth: Two dead, five missing, 150 homes razed

 

Two people are dead, five missing, and 30 injured in unprecedented bushfires which have also destroyed at least 150 homes in NSW amid warnings of worse to come.

A sombre Scott Morrison said today defence personnel stand ready to assist firefighters, warning: "Sadly, we have lost two Australians and I fear that we will lose more before the day is out."

Earlier, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons revealed two people had died in the Kangawalla fire at Diehard, 50 km east of Glen Innes in Northern NSW.

One man was found inside a burned-out car on Saturday morning while a woman died in hospital after fire fighters found her suffering severe burns overnight.

One blaze cut a destructive path through this community near Taree. Picture: AAP
One blaze cut a destructive path through this community near Taree. Picture: AAP

"They came into an area and found someone badly burnt," Mr Fitzsimmons said.

"The reports were initially of 40-50 per cent of burns to her body. She was also unconscious and the crews were rendering first aid and CPR for several hours."

The seven people who are unaccounted for are also missing in and around the Glen Innes fire.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed a second fatality as she addressed reporters in Sydney.

"Our thoughts and prayers of course go to the families and loved ones of those two deceased persons," she said.

She warned the number could rise, and said the community must brace itself for worse to come.

"We do need to brace ourselves and what is concerning is that the forecast weather conditions on Tuesday could mean that we're not through the worst of it."

There were still 75 bush or grass fires burning in NSW with 39 uncontained, the fire service said. Six fires remain at emergency warning level, 10 at watch and act.

The RFS has urged people affected by the fires on the mid-north coast and northern NSW areas to register with the Red Cross. Earlier, there were reports of people trapped in their homes.

Firefighters are bracing for another difficult day as winds across NSW ramp up. Picture Nathan Edwards
Firefighters are bracing for another difficult day as winds across NSW ramp up. Picture Nathan Edwards

It previously said that many people have called for help but the size and speed of the fires means they can't get to everyone.

Aerial footage showed "widespread" property damage and destruction as more than 80 fires burned at midnight on Friday night.

There are more than to 1200 firefighters and 70 aircraft battling the blazes after reinforcements have arrived from Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia.

Thousands of residents in the state's north were forced to flee for their lives, and multiple buildings, including a school at Bobin, in the northwest, are believed to have been destroyed.

There are reports residents may have become trapped in a number of locations, with firefighters unable to reach them in time.

Last night there were fears of a fatality at Rainbow Flat, with homes being checked by emergency services.

More than 1000 firefighters and 70 aircraft battled in extreme conditions at Port Macquarie, Nambucca, Kempsey and Clarence Valley, further north at Tenterfield and Armidale, and in the Blue Mountains yesterday. The fires were visible from space by NASA's satellites.

A weekend cool change is due to help firefighters but fire authorities warned the danger was not over, with hazardous conditions predicted to return early next week.

The view down Crown St in Harrington, looking down towards Murray St, where there is a serious threat to property. Picture: Supplied
The view down Crown St in Harrington, looking down towards Murray St, where there is a serious threat to property. Picture: Supplied

The blazes were so intense and dangerous the NSW Rural Fire Service yesterday issued a warning to the public to avoid being caught in the open because the bushfires were creating their own weather system. "Some are creating their own weather conditions and pyrocumulous clouds are developing," the NSW RFS said. "These are extremely dangerous."

Pyrocumulous clouds can produce dry lightning.

Nineteen schools on the mid-north and north coast were forced to close yesterday, and motorists were stranded as the Pacific Highway was shut down in both directions between Taree and Bulahdelah and at Port Macquarie.

Towns, including Port Macquarie and Grafton, were bathed in an eerie red as the huge fires threatened homes. "We have never had this many fires at emergency level," RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

Mr Fitzsimmons said very dry air, wind gusts of up to 80km an hour and low humidity had come on top of dry vegetation because of the drought. "We cannot overstate the flammability of the fuel given the current drought," he said.

He added that usually spot fires - caused by embers flying ahead of a fire front - would be 4km ahead but yesterday they were flying ahead by between six and 12km. "So you get this exponential rapid spread of the main fire front moving across the landscape," he said.

The RFS last night said they weren't able to help everyone who called because of the "magnitude and speed of the fires".

There is no rain forecast for the next week and temperatures are expected to remain in the high 20s and low 30s.

Temperatures are cooler than yesterday, with Port Macquarie forecast to reach 24C.

Find fire updates for New South Wales here and for Queensland here.

Exhausted fire crews put out spot fires at Rainbow Flat last night. Picture: Jeremy Piper
Exhausted fire crews put out spot fires at Rainbow Flat last night. Picture: Jeremy Piper
Terrifying...A resident surrounded by devastation in Rainbow Flat. Picture: Jeremy Piper
Terrifying...A resident surrounded by devastation in Rainbow Flat. Picture: Jeremy Piper
This home was completely destroyed by the firestorm last night. Picture: Jeremy Piper
This home was completely destroyed by the firestorm last night. Picture: Jeremy Piper
A picture posted on Facebook by Kelly-ann Oosterbeek, with the comment:
A picture posted on Facebook by Kelly-ann Oosterbeek, with the comment: "On our way to Sydney and stopped at Harrington for lunch ... this is what we found please pray for the people of this town — they are in imminent threat!"

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