But what about those who don’t leave? Authorities concede that despite the repeated dire warnings to evacuate, some residents still choose to stay and defend their homes.
In the small coastal community of Bermagui alone, some 15000 residents have chosen to remain behind and defend their homes after an emergency evacuation order was issued.
“We have seen pockets of communities where there are people that are staying. They will do some defence of their homes, but their fallback is to go to their safer place,” said NSW Fire Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons during a press conference on Saturday morning.
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“The vulnerable community of Batlow which was under threat yesterday and it will be under threat again today. Loads of people have left Batlow sensibly, but a number of people, the last figure I saw, there might have been 50 people in Batlow, they are in the town centre and if Batlow gets impacted, they will be in the town centre with the local Fire Brigades. Coastal communities. They know their trip is a couple of a minutes to the beach. Their plan is they will go to the coast or the evacuation centre where we have got hundreds of people in there.”
A SIMPLE SIGN OF LIFE
In the town of Dalmeny on the NSW south coast, residents who’ve chosen to stay and defend their homes are using a simple signal to let firefighters know they’re still there.
Distinctive yellow-topped recycling bins put out on the street are a sign to let fireys know there’s still someone inside the home, the ABC reports.
The local RFS brigades had devised the system, spreading the word across social media.
“People were saying, ‘Oh I’ll leave a piece of paper in the letter box or on the door’. In the conditions, paper is going rip off, or it won’t survive, whereas bins are straight away a clear message,” Dalmeny RFS Captain Greg Hill told the ABC.
“If it’s empty, put a brick, put something in it, so it doesn’t blow over. That way if the time comes and we are in the vicinity … we know someone’s still there that we can help.”
ESCAPE TO THE WATER
Surf lifesaver Kelly Dobrow waded into Conjola Lake with a rescue surfboard and watched her family’s 50-year-old holiday home burn to the ground. Her brother and co-owner of the NSW south coast house had the same view, via a video call with her from Sydney.
“He kept phoning me, and I said ‘oh let me Facetime you’ and we just watched the whole house burn down,” she told AAP on Friday.
“It was quite surreal – he was sitting in his kitchen watching it all happen.” The lakeside timber home, built by Ms Dobrow’s father in 1974, was one of at least 89 destroyed in Conjola Park when a flank of the massive Currowan fire swept through the hamlet on Tuesday.
Ms Dobrow’s three sons and mother evacuated as she tried in vain to defend it. “It was sad but I knew it was going to happen,” she said.
“We had no fireys in the street, a lot of the neighbours did the best they could, putting out spot fires with hoses.
“It was so ferocious and quick.” She also made sure she had an exit plan – placing an old rescue surfboard on the lake’s edge earlier in the morning, with a view to get into chest-deep water. “I knew if I had to go, I’d go in that as I didn’t have a boat to go in,” the Sydney woman said.
“I was very safe, just leaning on the rescue board. I knew if it came any closer I could paddle out.
“There were about 20 boats out there idling, just waiting for the whole thing to go over.” The neighbourhood camaraderie during and after the fire astonished Ms Dobrow. “There were neighbours literally running around between flames with buckets of water, trying to put out spot fires,” she said.
-Luke Costin, AAP
WHAT TO DO?
The NSW Rural Fire Service offers a fact sheet for those who choose to stay and defend their homes during bushfires. A checklist asks those who want to stay a series of questions: “Do you have a back-up plan? What will you do if there isn’t a fire truck? Do you know what you will do if there isn’t a fire truck?”
However, the NSW Rural Fire Service also issues a series of serious caveats: “There are some situations when the NSW RFS recommends you should not stay and defend.” Those include catastrophic fire danger rating days and extreme fire danger days when your home has not been specially designed or modified to withstand a fire.”
“By choosing to Stay and Defend you and your family may be at risk of serious injury and death.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged people to evacuate bushfire hotspots while they still have the time.
“I’m pleased to say that we’ve never been as prepared as we are today for the onslaught we’re likely to face,” she told reporters on Saturday morning. “All of the major road networks are still open, but we can’t guarantee that beyond the next few hours. So, there are still windows for people to get out.” There are some 137 bushfires burning in NSW on Saturday morning, with around 60 uncontained.
Five “no go” zones have been established across broad sections of the south coast, parts of the alpine region and on fire-threatened parts of Sydney’s fringes.
Authorities are urging people there to head to cities, large towns, already – burnt areas or beaches if they hadn’t already left.
Temperatures are forecast to reach 45C inland and up to 44C on the coast. Sydney’s outskirts could hit 46C. A gusty southerly is forecast to reach the far south coast from midafternoon, reaching Sydney about midnight. The Regional Express airline suspended all NSW south coast services on Saturday morning due to the extreme bushfire conditions.
Liberal Bega MP Andrew Constance, who plans to defend his home today, said the region could be “smashed”.
“We have got over 500,000 hectares ablaze. That’s a massive, massive fire front,” he told the ABC on Saturday morning.
A statewide total fire ban will remain in place on Saturday, as will a state of emergency, which is the third declared in as many months.
Eight people, including a firefighter, have died since Monday. Another man, seriously burnt in a bushfire in November, died in hospital on Sunday.