“That’s, of course, a tragedy for their family and friends and the greater community of Cobargo,” he said.”Our thoughts are with those people.”
He said police continue to try and make their way to a home west of Narooma, “where unfortunately we think that the news there will not be good either.”
Five blazes were at emergency level at 8.30pm.
A bushfire in Greystanes, near Blacktown, was spreading quickly, according to a warning issued by the RFS. It said the fire was burning in a northerly direction and has advised residents east of Prospect Reservoir, south of the M4 and north of the train line in Pemulwuy that they are at risk and it is too late to leave.
There are reports of widespread property losses across the South Coast, including four homes in Batemans Bay. The number is expected to increase.
On Monday night, volunteer firefighter and father-to-be Samuel McPaul died when his truck rolled at a NSW-Victoria border town.
The fatal truck rollover near Jingellic was caused by an extraordinary weather event when a “fire tornado” lifted a 10-12 tonne Rural Fire Service truck and flipped it onto its roof, Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.
Fire conditions worsen overnight
The South Coast had “extraordinary fire behaviour overnight [on Monday], exceeding what was expected and predicted”, Mr Fitzsimmons said.
“The general advice through that area is that it is too late to leave,” he said.
He urged people to seek shelter in large towns or centres if it was safe to do so, but advised people in coastal villages to head to safety.
“Generally speaking, safety is towards the beach,” he said.
Cobargo resident Ellie Bead was sheltering at Mystery Bay and said residents had been directed by firefighters to head onto the beach and bring things to swat away embers.
She said there were about 100 evacuees on the beach who were mostly “quiet”.
“Everyone has angst written on their faces,” she said.
Further south, Emmanuel Seimenis, who lives eight kilometres from Batemans Bay, said he had been getting calls from the RFS over his landline since 4am.
While speaking to the Herald, the emergency warning message interrupted the call, urging residents in the area to take shelter as the fire approached.
Mr Seimenis said he could see the red glow of flames from his backyard, but he was unlikely to evacuate and had prepared his property as best he could.
“I don’t know what is going to happen,” he said. “For the first time today, I am experiencing in person the fire crisis that I have been following for the last few weeks.”
Caitlin Nobes is holidaying in Bermagui and said conditions were “eerily dark” on Tuesday morning but had cleared up just after 10am.
She said nearby communities were told to head to Bermagui about 6am on Tuesday, with cars streaming into the town.
“There is a lot of ash flying around,” she said.
Ms Nobes said most of the town had evacuated to the local surf club.
Tony Whittingham is holidaying in Lake Conjola but has been forced to seek shelter in a boat in the middle of the lake as the fire approaches.
“It is the apocalypse right now,” he said. “We can see the fire to the west of us, the smoke is really bad, the wind is really strong.”
He said people were taking off their shirts and dipping them into the ocean to keep cool and protect themselves against the smoke.
His friends parked their boat in the middle of the lake, close to a sandbank in case they needed to jump into the water.
Mr Whittingham said they had a bucket of water on board in case embers rained down on them.
“It’s hard to breathe, but I think we will be all right,” he said. “We might be spending New Year’s Eve in the water.”
South Coast evacuation centers are starting to get “unbelievable numbers” of evacuees.
Chief executive of Surf Lifesaving NSW, Steven Pearce, said Bermagui surf club had about 4000-5000 evacuees, while 500 people were sheltering at Broulee surf club and a further 150 at Tathra.
Mr Pearce said there were several reports of people with breathing difficulties and emergency services were trying to get oxygen to them.
There are total fire bans in effect for 11 areas, including areas facing “extreme” and “severe” fire danger.
On Tuesday, the Southern Ranges, Illawarra and Shoalhaven areas were facing “extreme” fire danger ratings, while areas including Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter, central ranges and the Far South Coast were issued “severe” fire danger ratings.
Strong westerly winds are expected, pushing fires east and placing coastal communities and holiday hot spots under threat.
Sam Anderson lives in Burrill, near Ulladulla, and works in town. He said the entire area has lost power.
“It’s quite daunting. It’s just grey here. Super grey and smoky,” he said.
“We lost power about 12 o’clock. We got it back on for about another hour but it’s gone again. That’s from Bawley Point all the way to Conjola.”
Ulladulla resident Cathy Dunn said the power outages and internet outages had caused chaos in the area, with some people getting stuck in the elevator at Woolworths.
“People are swimming out of Conjola Park and into the lake,” Ms Dunn said.
She said homes had been lost at West Conjola, and most people in the area had plans to evacuate to Bewong, about 25 kilometres north.
“The fire will reach the coast, it’s that simple,” she said.
Laura is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Jenny Noyes is a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a writer and editor at Daily Life.
Matt Bungard is a journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.