People Missing, Dozens Of Properties Lost In Bushfires Across NSW, QLD
People remain missing after out-of-control bushfires raced across areas of northern NSW and southeast QLD, destroying homes and igniting fears they were deliberately lit.
As many as 30 properties are feared destroyed or damaged as bushfires rip through NSW's north, the Rural Fire Service said.
Conditions eased slightly on Wednesday, allowing firefighters to gain the upper hand on the blaze at Busby's Flat, which has blackened more than 13,200 hectares, and another fire at Drake.
A number of homes have been lost in Rappville, a village with a population of about 250 people.
At 4.30pm Wednesday, there were 39 fires burning across NSW, with the Busbys Flat blaze the only one at 'watch and act' level.
NSW Police said they were treating that fire as suspicious, with Strike Force Cleander to investigate the cause of the blaze.
The RFS had earlier reported claims of "suspicious activity in that area".
"Our investigations have come back that there was something suspicious that has happened in that area," an RFS spokesman told reporters on Wednesday.
"Potentially (it was) deliberately lit."
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and state emergency services minister David Elliott added they were "horrified" by the idea the blaze may have been deliberate.
"It really is a bastard act if you're going to put your own community at risk," Elliott said.
Many homes are feared lost in the Rappville fires, with two blazes in the area merging on Wednesday to form one huge 64-kilometre wide fire front.
One of those homes confirmed lost belongs to 83-year-old pensioner John Duncan. His daughter, Carol, set up a GoFundMe page on Tuesday night, which has raised more than $15,000 in less than 24 hours.
Carol said her father did not know the condition of his neighbours in the small village.
Acting NSW police commissioner Dean Smith said the widespread nature of the fire in the rural hamlet made it difficult for authorities to access the fireground, and put a number on how many people are unaccounted for.
"At this point in time, we're unable to fully confirm those numbers," he told a Sydney press conference.
"We do have a number of people who are unaccounted for. But we do not know what that actually looks like at this time.
"We are certainly working closely with our resources to make sure that everyone is accounted for."
Robert Mustow, the local mayor, said he had been left "broken" by the scenes of destruction.
"My heartfelt feelings go out to the whole community," he said, according to ABC News.
"Yesterday the winds were ferocious and people said it was like Armageddon."
Cameraman Matt Coble told ABC News the wind was "cyclonic", as the Busbys Flat fire approached.
"The roar of it, the speed of it, was unbelievable - I couldn't imagine the speed of the actual wind."
The RFS says residents likely won't be able to return home for a number of days given trees are down across roads and power lines are on the ground.
The RFS hopes more favourable weather conditions will help them get the upper hand ahead of forecast weekend rain.
Crews from interstate are expected to provide reinforcements in the coming days.
Despite a cooler weather forecast from midweek -- with temperatures in NSW expected to drop to the mid-20s -- continued dry conditions meant fire dangers would not immediately fall away, meteorologist Jonathan How said.
"With no significant rainfall, fire dangers will remain high to very high until at least the end of the week," he said.
Fires spread quickly in Queensland
Fire crews have all but extinguished a blaze that destroyed one home in southeast Queensland's Lockyer Valley.
Firefighters are still busy with 24 fires still burning in the north.
Cooler temperatures are easing conditions but Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warned people to make sure they are prepared for bushfires.
"The fire season will continue for many months," Palaszczuk told reporters.
"Police are still doing their investigations but there is concern about one of the fires at this stage being deliberately lit."
The Laidley inferno flared up with little warning on Tuesday, catching firefighters by surprise as they were busy attending a fire at nearby Thornton.
One family's home was destroyed, the fierce flames melting a boat and ute in the yard.
Lockyer Valley Mayor Tanya Milligan was monitoring other fires in the region when she got a phone call asking if she knew the fire was in her street.
She said she quickly arranged for her pets to be collected.
At the peak of the fire danger on Tuesday afternoon some 120 evacuees were registered at the Laidley evacuation centre.
Fire crews are still battling the nearby blaze at Glen Rock, with some residents who were evacuated on Tuesday still unable to return home.
No properties have been damaged there.