Firefighter Critical As Fires Destroy Towns In Northern NSW
Numerous homes have been lost or damaged and a 66-year-old volunteer firefighter has suffered serious burns, as NSW fire crews battle several out-of-control bush and grass fires.
Tenterfield local Neville Smith's hands, arm, legs, back, face and airways were burned on Friday while he and a colleague fought a fire at Mount Mackenzie Road, which had burned more than 3500 hectares south of the Tenterfield township by Saturday evening.
He was stabilised at the local hospital, intubated and then flown to Royal Brisbane Hospital, where he remains in a critical-but-stable condition.
"He is expected to remain in the intensive care unit for some time," RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons told reporters on Saturday.
The truck he was in was destroyed by fire but his colleague was unharmed.
"It is a sobering reminder how dangerous and volatile these firegrounds are and particularly given the underlying drought conditions and the dryness in the vegetation," he said.
One home has been destroyed in the Tenterfield blaze, four have been damaged and three facilities, including two car yards, have been ruined.
But at least another 65 homes were saved by firefighters, who have brought the blaze under control.
Local councillor Bronwyn Petrie, who drove Smith to the local hospital, said he had been battling a blaze on a neighbouring property when the wind suddenly changed and he was engulfed in flames.
"It just changed so quickly," she said.
"We're very lucky there haven't been residents lost and more people injured."
Petrie said she stayed up until 5am battling to protect her property on the edge of the Tenterfield township.
"There were just embers everywhere, you could see embers across the mountains," she said.
"It looked like lots of Christmas lights."
Some 60 fires remain burning across the state, with several of the blazes out of control.
Most of the activity is concentrated in the state's north.
Watch and Act warnings were in place on Saturday night for two fires in northern NSW - at Drake in the Tenterfield region and at Bees Nest near Armidale.
Up to six homes have been reported destroyed in the Drake and Bees Nest blazes but assessment teams have had difficulty access the fireground, the RFS said.
The Bees Nest blaze has torched 50,000 hectares, twice the size of the Sydney city council area.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state was well-prepared and resourced to battle the blazes, due to investments including a large air tanker.
"But nothing can match nature," she told reporters.
Armidale, Clarence Valley, Glen Innes, Inverell, Tenterfield, Uralla and Walcha local government areas have been declared natural disaster zones, allowing residents to access state and federal financial support.
The Insurance Council has also declared a catastrophe for bushfires that have destroyed homes or property in the state's north, giving priority to claims from affected policyholders.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has assured those affected by the blazes, along with fires burning in Queensland, that they will get help if they require it.
"You will get all the support that is needed," he tweeted on Saturday.