Townships wiped out by monster that stole Christmas
Two country NSW towns have been almost entirely wiped off the map by bushfires as more than 100 buildings were razed to the ground across the state on a horror day of catastrophic conditions.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian revealed the "bad news" there was "not much left" of Balmoral, south west of Sydney, where flames up to 40m high are believed to have destroyed a dozen homes in the small town of less than 300 people on Saturday.
While in Dargan, north of the Blue Mountains, up to 17 homes have burned to the ground - almost half the total number of houses in the town.
The out-of-control Green Wattle Creek fire tore through Balmoral, Buxton and Bargo for the third time in week, with the massive blaze still covering more than 192,660 hectares on Sunday afternoon.
Ms Berejiklian said emergency financial assistance had been extended to residents in the Wingecarribee and Wollondilly council areas who had endured the "most horrific and horrendous circumstances".
"There's not much left in Balmoral."
Meanwhile a man believed to be in his 60s or 70s was reported missing on Sunday from the rural village of Bell after fires ripped through the Lithgow area on Saturday.
NSW Police chief inspector Chris Sammut said the man lived on one of Bell's most remote properties.
"He may have self-evacuated or went to stay with friends and we want the public to let us know any information they have to assist us locate this missing person," he said.
Many residents were still unable to return to their homes to assess the damage or salvage any remaining property on Sunday as building inspectors scoured the disaster zones for hazardous materials.
The support provided by our @DeptDefence has been exceptional. #NSWRFS aviation rescue crews have been working with Defence to check homes cut off by fires. Often removing at risk people when there is no other option. Just another side of the operation that most would never see. pic.twitter.com/rDdSBzg2iw— NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) December 22, 2019
Kristen Welsh and her two children Jackson, 11, and Grace, 6, left their home in Thirlmere on Saturday morning and had yet to return on Sunday.
Her husband Clinton stayed behind to look after the home.
"We haven't been able to go back. It is concerning because there is only one way out for Clinton if he decides to leave," Ms Welsh said.
"I have a weird feeling about the whole situation. We're safe and well and very grateful for the RFS."
Dargan local Fiona Farquhar, 49, fled to nearby Mount Victoria on Saturday before later receiving a phone call from a next door neighbour to say an ember had set her house on fire.
"I just screamed my head off basically, I was just horrified," she said.
"(I felt) just totally powerless to do anything - you know you can't get back there to stop it."
Ms Farquhar said she had been told dozens of homes in the area had been destroyed.
"The neighbouring suburb Clarence lost 12 houses and in Bell houses were lost," she said.
"To be honest, we didn't think we were the area most under threat. RFS did everything humanly possible, the weather just got too horrendous."
RFS spokeswoman Angela Burford told The Daily Telegraph the number of homes lost in the Lithgow region on Saturday would likely be in the "dozens".
"Over the coming couple of days we will have more conclusive numbers - some areas are still active (fire grounds)," she said.
NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said teams were currently assessing whether the buildings destroyed over the weekend were homes, sheds or other structures.
"Across all the fire grounds of the last 24 hours, we could be talking about another hundred buildings being added to the state tally so far this season," he said.
"That doesn't mean there's 100 homes and we need to make sure we differentiate between buildings, property and homes.
"But the toll is significant."
There were 104 fires still burning across the state as of 4pm on Sunday, including five at a 'Watch and Act' level.
Mr Fitzsimmons said managing fatigue among the thousands of volunteer and paid RFS firefighters was of critical importance as the widespread devastation continued.
"Fatigue management and the drain, and the relentless nature of this season is certainly taking a toll," he said.
"And so too, is the geographic spread of the (fire) activity … for several months between July and into September, most of our effort was really concentrated in north east NSW we've now got the fire spreading from north east NSW to the Queensland border down to the south coast.
"Those logistical challenges … all add to the challenges of fatigue and crew rotation."
Following the weekend of tough conditions Mr Fitzsimmons said more than 1000 volunteers answered a call out for more help.
"I couldn't be any more proud," he said.
"And we've seen, we've seen only tragically this week, the risk is real and the consequences can be fatal.
"There are loved ones … and there are mates who will never be the same again because of the horrendous events that unfolded this week."