Two homes have been damaged or destroyed on the Mid North Coast as firefighters work to control several out-of-control fires across the state.
The Pacific Highway is closed in both directions between Taree and Bulahdelah, and at Port Macquarie between the Oxley Highway and Hastings River Drive.
At Failford, The Lakes Way is closed between the Pacific Highway and Failford Road.
The Public Information and Inquiry Centre has been opened to assist people in the region.
“From my personal perspective, it’s horrifying,” Cr West told AAP.
He said a fire near Forster threatened a council building on Thursday night.
“It was literally a wall of yellow, horrible, beastly, tormenting flames,” he said.
“It was a horrendous beast.”
RFS spokesman Greg Allan said conditions were expected to worsen throughout the day.
“It’s going to be very hot and very dry and very windy,” he said. “We are likely to see conditions subside a little over the weekend, but things to pick up again early next week.”
Mr Allan said the RFS had almost 700 firefighters out battling the 75 fires burning across the state. Just under 40 of those are yet to be contained, he said.
“We’re miles away from the fires at Lake Cathie and Crowdy Head, but the smoke is still incredibly thick here, and you can feel ash dropping from the sky,” Port Macquarie resident Laura Begbie said.
“We also have [a fire] at Lindfield Park to the north which has flared up again.”
“It’s incredibly eerie here, and it’s almost pitch black. It’s the middle of the day, but I still have every light on in the house. The smoke has left me feeling quite ill and exhausted, but I’m mostly concerned about my friends who live closer to the fires.”
Eight fires are burning at “watch and act” level.
Forster courthouse has been closed for the day due to the Hillville fire.
Fire crews are in the midst of a horrific 48 hours with hot and windy conditions causing havoc as new fires start and existing fires jump containment lines. There is also concern fires will combine in the state’s north.
The fire at Torrington, near Tenterfield, is more than 18,000 hectares in size and is burning to the west of Silent Grove Road.
Evacuation centres have been set up at Club Taree and Tuncurry Bowling Club for residents who have self-evacuated from the Forster blaze.
The RFS is urging those people to register with the Red Cross so they are known to be safe.
Four of the state’s 21 fire areas will have total fire bans tomorrow even as the state cools off behind a cold front.
Also, any respite for the state’s firefighters could be short-lived. While temperatures ease back over the next couple of days, they will peak on Tuesday with low- to mid-30s forecast by the Bureau of Meteorology for much of eastern NSW, with some windy conditions expected.
Ruth Allen was looking out over the ocean on Port Macquarie’s picturesque Lighthouse Beach on Friday afternoon. She could barely see the structure the beach is named after, which was shrouded in what she said was a “hideous red colour”.
Ms Allen has lived in the area for 12 years. She said nothing had previously threatened homes to this extent.
“We had a couple of bushfires up on the north shore, and there have, of course, been fires out further, but this is the first time since we’ve lived here where we’ve seen anything like this. It’s incredibly unusual. This is driest I’ve seen it,” she said.
“I was in town earlier. It was a very strange experience, it wasn’t nearly as busy as you’d expect on a Friday morning. The air was still, there’s ash falling down and blackened leaves. People were just wandering around looking a bit dumbstruck and just talking to each other about how weird it looks.”
As she spoke to the Herald, she noted the ash getting thicker outside. Even though she does not suffer from asthma, she said she had been coughing and wheezing.
“But we’re the lucky ones. I’ve been speaking to people whose homes are on the front line and they’re scared. But to be honest, we’re all getting scared now.”
She, her husband, 17-year-old son and dog are tentatively planning to make a move should conditions worsen.
“If you look at the map right now, where do you go from here?
“Everybody I know is glued to social media and the news. I’m staring at bush that’s 150 metres, 200 metres from my house and if that went up, I really don’t know where we could go.”
One Port Macquarie high school, St Joseph’s Regional College, was closed on Friday.
Students with remaining HSC exams might be relocated to sit them at Mackillop College next week.
Sarah is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Matt Bungard is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.