The NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said there were more than 60 fires burning across NSW and more than 20 of those are still not contained.
“We’re seeing aggressive fire activity.”
The fires burned amid heatwave conditions across the state, with temperatures in Sydney reaching 46.8 degrees at Richmond.
Mr Fitzsimmons said emergency-level blazes in the Bega Valley – the Big Jack, Postmans Trail and Creewah Road fires – combined in the late afternoon as conditions deteriorated.
Firefighters were bracing for ember attacks and the potential for more spot fires caused by the three converged fires near Bega.
While conditions in Bega township were not as severe, heavy smoke hung over the town.
Flagship ABC program Q&A was to be held in Bega on Monday with its new host Hamish Macdonald but was forced to relocate to Queanbeyan, just outside Canberra, as a result of the fires.
There have been reports of fire damage to some properties, sheds and buildings in the area but no homes had been lost by Saturday afternoon.
“It is a relief at this stage that there are no homes lost but we still have a long night ahead of us and five emergency alerts in the state is a serious issue.” said NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian.
Smoke from the fires turned day to night in communities near Cobargo, which has already been devastated by fire.
In the evening, burnt leaves and ash were falling, along with thick, dirty rain, at Pambula and Eden near the Border Fire.
On Saturday afternoon the RFS told residents in the Bega Valley to seek shelter because it was too late to leave.
Firefighting crews in the area were on alert for downbursts of air that could exacerbate the spread of fire in the area because the fires were so intense that they were generating their own weather.
The RFS expected temperatures in Bega to drop by 11pm bringing some relief to firefighting efforts. Crews were putting out spot fires up and down the coast.
In the Snowy Monaro region, the Clear Range fire was created by a number of spot fires as ember attacks hit Michelago and Colinton. The embers spread from the Orroral Valley fire burning south-east of Canberra.
Bumbalong residents and hobby farmers Laurence and Claire Cowie lost their horse stable but managed to save their house with help from media crews, despite flames licking their property.
Mr Cowie said they cracked out the XXXX beer after the danger had passed. Their three horses survived but he was worried some of their 24 cattle might have life-threatening injuries. The grass fire moved quickly and they had to make tough choices.
“It’s been a big day and unfortunately it came down to a day of making priority decisions, we’ve lost stables and sheds but we’ve saved houses, you can’t be everywhere at once,” Mr Cowie said.
“We did the best that we could.”
Snowy Monaro Regional Council mayor Peter Beer said it was shocking to see the mountain region under threat.
“Red skies, black skies, soot going everywhere. It’s just not the mountain atmosphere we have come to know,” Mr Beer said.
“We are a tourist region and all our businesses have suffered along the highway. It’s very similar to the coast.”
Sol Weiner, standing on the beach at Pambula, said the sky had been growing redder and redder. Mr Weiner, who travels the coast during summer running a market stall, said everywhere he’d repeatedly run into roadblocks.
“Everything I’m trying to do is cancelled,” he said.
It is a common sentiment on the coast. Communities including Tilba and Candelo are closed today, with authorities afraid nearby fires will hit the towns.
Nick is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.
Alex Ellinghausen is The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Canberra bureau photographer
Caitlin Fitzsimmons is a senior writer for The Sun-Herald, focusing on social affairs.
Aiesha Saunders is an intern at The Sydney Morning Herald.