Several national parks, including the Royal National Park, and campgrounds in greater Sydney have been closed on Saturday due to the bushfire threat.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who has declared a state of emergency until next Thursday, said NSW would have to brace for “another terrible day” on Saturday as temperatures in many parts soared into the mid-40s but she insisted “every preparation” had been made. “If you are someone experiencing difficulty and need help, please go to the evacuation centres,” she said.
NSW Rural Fire Service deputy commissioner Rob Rogers warned that the fires could move “frighteningly quick” on Saturday due to the extreme conditions.
“We are unfortunately very likely to lose homes [on Saturday] but we will be very happy and call it a success if there are no lives lost,” he said.
More than 3000 firefighters will be battling blazes in NSW on Saturday, while a further 500 will be located at strategic points. “We are ready to respond to whatever the day throws at us,” he said.
After he was heckled by angry residents in on NSW’s South Coast on Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he understood that people were feeling a “sense of frustration, and hurt, and loss and anger” due to the ferocity of the bushfire disasters.
But he said the Commonwealth and Defence Force were “stepping up” as he warned that there would be “some gruelling days ahead”. About 1000 people were due to be evacuated by the Navy from the Victorian coastal town of Mallacoota by late Friday.
Earlier, NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance, who nearly lost his Malua Bay home to fire, took a swipe at Mr Morrison, saying he received “the welcome that he probably deserved” on the South Coast.
Mr Morrison sought to downplay any rift with the NSW Liberal minister, saying he had reached out on Friday to Mr Constance, who had been through “a terrible experience and ordeal”.
But federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese upped pressure on the Prime Minister for a “national response” to the bushfire crisis.
“People know this is not business as usual. We haven’t in my lifetime had people on beaches waiting to be evacuated. It requires national leadership and a national response,” he said. “This is a national emergency. It is important that the response be appropriate to the scale of this emergency.”
NSW Police confirmed a man, believed to be 72, was found dead in a car after bushfires swept the South Coast. On Friday evening, they confirmed the death of man in the state’s north-east, as a result of burns he sustained in November, bringing the NSW bushfire death toll since July to 17.
A total fire ban remains in place across NSW as 130 fires ravage the state, including 50 which are out of control. So far, 1365 homes have been lost – 449 of them since New Year’s Eve – while 3.6 million hectares have been burnt this fire season.
“Leave zones” have been declared for an area stretching hundreds of kilometres from Nowra in the Shoalhaven region to the Victorian border and west to Kosciuszko.
Temperatures are expected to climb to 41 degrees in Batemans Bay, 37 degrees in Jindabyne and 46 degrees in parts of western Sydney on Saturday. A top of 35 degrees is forecast for the inner city.
In a sign of the size of the evacuation from NSW’s South Coast, more than 18,000 vehicles travelled northbound through Nowra on the Princes Highway between midnight and 4pm on Friday, figures from the state’s transport agency show.
In Victoria, two people have been confirmed dead from the bushfires and the number of people unaccounted for in the state rose to 28 on Friday, from 17 a day earlier.
The country’s bushfire crisis led to a state of disaster being declared in Victoria for the first time in the state’s history, giving authorities powers to evacuate residents and towns in six designated local government areas and the Alpine Resorts.
Matt O’Sullivan is City Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald.
Megan Gorrey is the Urban Affairs reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.