NSW 'mega-fire' escalated to emergency level, too late to leave Wolgan Valley
Photo: All that's left of the fire rating sign in Bilpin. (ABC News: Billy Cooper)
An emergency warning has been issued for the Gospers Mountain "mega-fire" west of Sydney and it is too late to leave for those in Wolgan Valley.
The fire covers more than 378,000 hectares and is spreading quickly in the Ben Bullen State Forest, north of Lithgow.
If you are in the Wolgan Valley area you should seek shelter as the fire approaches.
There is also an emergency warning for a small fire in the nearby area of Palmers Oaky and residents are warned to keep an eye out for embers.
Fire crews lost control of a backburn on the "mega-fire" yesterday afternoon and 20 structures around Mount Irvine, Mount Wilson and Mount Tomah were destroyed as a result.
RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the crews in the area were attempting to protect communities around the Bells Line of Road, but "unfortunately things don't always go to plan".
He said extreme drought conditions had made the fires more unpredictable and backburning less reliable.
"They weren't expecting any extraordinary flare up yesterday," he said.
"They were having a really good success with the [backburn].
"And then it was late in the afternoon … where the backburn just turned into a wall of flame and compromised a firefighter's safety.
Commissioner Fitzsimmons said the fire then crossed the highway and destroyed a number of properties in that area.
Assessment teams are yet to determine the exact amount of damage done in those areas.
RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said "nothing is working out" for crews battling the "mega-blaze" which has been burning for months
"In these drought conditions, whatever we try doesn't seem to be working," he said.
Commissioner Fitzsimmons said the forecast for the next few months was "nothing but above average temperatures and below average rainfall".
The fire has damaged powerlines and left around 450 homes in Bilpin, Beambing, Mount Wilson, Mount Tomah and Mount Irvine without power.
Endeavour Energy said residents may be without power for several days as they cannot begin repair work until the RFS declares the area safe.
Commissioner Fitzsimmons said the main focus of the RFS this week would be trying to contain the fires burning in the Grose Valley.
"If it continues to burn down the valley, then it exposes potentially the Blue Mountains region along the Great Western Highway, particularly the northern side," he said.
"But we're not at that stage. The focus remains well and truly along the Bells Line of Road communities."
He said deteriorating weather conditions on Thursday and Saturday could complicate containment efforts.
"[This] could become a real challenge for communities like Kurrajong as [fire] heads further to the east under strong westerly winds," he said.
Botanic gardens burnt
As well as protecting homes, the RFS has been trying to save the Blue Mountains Botanic Garden (BMBG) in Mount Tomah.
In a statement, the BMBG said it was assessing the damage, however its main buildings were safe.
"The impact on some parts of the Garden appears to be significant," it said.
The 28-hectare Garden will be closed for at least a week.
Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill urged those in the affected areas to check on anyone living alone or who is less mobile.
"It is my fear, given the fires around our community, that we have very difficult weeks ahead. I am sorry to say that Christmas 2019 may not be free of the tension we all know too well," he said.
The 'mega-blaze' stretches from the Lithgow area in the west, through the Hawkesbury area and towards the Central Coast in the east.
Firefighters are doing all they can to protect properties ahead of the heatwave predicted to move across the state on Wednesday but the blaze is expected to burn around homes for weeks.
There are 100 fires burning across the state and so far this fire season six lives have been lost and 700 homes destroyed.