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Facing up to the firestorm

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Fire in Sydney's west

NSW Rural Fire Service and NSW Fire Rescue Crews tackle a deliberately lit bushfire near Bidwill in Sydney's west.

PT0M0S 620 349

Thousands of firefighters have worked through the night on several out of control fires, as a cool change crossed southern NSW.

NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Superintendent Matt Inwood said 2000 firefighters worked through Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning on 140 fires.

There are still 30 uncontained fires burning around the state.

A bushfire in Shoalhaven crosses the Princes Highway on Tuesday night.

A bushfire in Shoalhaven crosses the Princes Highway on Tuesday night. Photo: Twitter/NSWRFS

"There's a lot of work still to do on those fires, throughout the day today and certainly over coming days," Superintendent Inwood told the ABC.

The Yarrabin fire, burning about 30 kilometres north of Nimmitabel, near Cooma, is of particular concern to crews on Wednesday morning.

The bushfire is burning out of control and had scorched more than 6000 hectares by 5am.

Residents and firefighters watch a bushfire on Mount Forest Road near Cooma.

Residents and firefighters watch a bushfire on Mount Forest Road near Cooma. Photo: Jay Cronan

"There was about four properties that were under threat during the night, where crews have provided property protection and there’s been no property loss down there.

"There's still a lot of work to go on that fire ... a lot of work to do in finalising containment lines there."

A fire at Deans Gap, six kilometres out of Sussex Inlet, jumped the Princes Highway, forcing the road to close.

Smoke rises from the Yarrabin bushfire, burning out of control near Cooma, about 100km (62 miles) south of Canberra. Click for more photos

NSW and ACT Fires - 8th January 2013

Residents in NSW areas with a "catastrophic" fire danger woke up to sweltering temperatures. The Southern Ranges and Illawarra/Shoalhaven areas have been given the highest possible fire danger rating. A total fire ban has been declared statewide, and all national parks, state forests and reserves have been closed to the public. Selected images available from www.fairfaxsyndication.com. Follow us at http:\twitter.com/photosSMH. Photo: REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

"Trucks have worked there overnight providing property protection ... so crews have been kept really busy down there also," Superintendent Inwood said.

According to the RFS website, a grass fire had burnt through more than 16,000 hectares at Cobbler Road, Jugiong, in southern NSW, and was burning out of control early this morning. One property was believed to have been lost there on Tuesday.

A scrub fire broke out at Berry Street, Lithgow, west of the Blue Mountains, and was uncontained at 5am, while a grass fire had burnt through 140 hectares at Hargraves, near Mudgee, and was being contained.

Superintendent Inwood said a cool change had helped ease fire conditions.

"[The temperature] dropped down by 20 degrees so it's certainly a welcome relief for the crews."

At times on Tuesday, the full-scale catastrophe everyone had feared looked as if it could be unleashed, as homes were threatened and firefighters battled to prevent the flames engulfing whole townships as temperatures soared into the mid-40s.

But incredibly, by 10.30pm on Tuesday there had been no reports of lives lost.

The Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimmons, said there had been one report of the home being lost in Jugiong and that 20 other homes in the area were under "imminent" threat.

"There's a very real chance that we will see more losses," he said.

In addition, there were reports of 1000 dead animals including sheep and cattle.

"We've still got many hours of very difficult conditions," he said. "Particularly as this southerly change moves northward, we can expect some fairly intense and erratic weather behaviour."

The Premier, Barry O'Farrell, said NSW was a long way from being out of the woods but it seemed there was private confidence at Rural Fire Service headquarters that months of planning and preparation might have averted a virtual armageddon, despite horrendous conditions in some areas not seen for close to a decade.

Mr Fitzsimmons praised the "extraordinary" firefighting effort that was still taking place overnight, in "dirty, hot difficult conditions".

"We have been very fortunate," he said.

Mr O'Farrell praised firefighters for their heroic efforts, and the entire community for responding so well.

"More than 1 million hits on the RFS website shows people are paying attention and doing what they're told," he said.

But not everyone took note of the dangers.Three teenagers were charged for lighting a fire at Shalvey, in Sydney’s west, and a 70-year-old man in the Illawarra region was charged for breaching the total fire ban after he allegedly lit a cooking fire and tried to prevent police extinguishing it as hot ash fell to the ground.

In total, 10 emergency alerts were issued in a number of locations on Tuesday. The worst fires were around Bega, Cooma, Wagga Wagga and the Shoalhaven. The total fire ban that had been in force from midnight will continue on Wednesday, with Victoria's Country Fire Association sending 20 firefighters and an air crane to help the effort in NSW.

Across NSW at 4pm, there were 437 trucks and 81 firefighting aircraft in use, with 55,709 hectares razed.

Four firefighters had been injured. Their conditions were unknown.

Fairfax Media

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