Prime Minister Julia Gillard speaks with Jeanette and Bob Fenwick, who lost their property in the Coonabarabran fire. Photo: Jacky Ghossein
Prime Minister Julia Gillard flew into Coonabarabran on Thursday to witness first-hand the devastating effects of the bushfire that claimed at least 49 homes.
At a press conference, the Prime Minister announced financial support for those who had lost homes or been evacuated.
Ms Gillard drove through the Timor Road in Warrumbungle National Park, the epicentre of the inferno, which opened on Wednesday for the first time since the fire for residents to see the extent of their losses.
The Prime Minister surveyed the charred countryside and blackened forests described by the Rural Fire Service as a "moonscape".
She saw the ruins of the home in which Bob and Jeanette Fenwick had raised four children. The Fenwicks also lost 33 cows and 250 sheep in the blaze.
Their property is in the valley below the Australian Astronomical Observatory where accommodation was destroyed, the site of which the Prime Minister also visited on Thursday.
Mr Fenwick told Ms Gillard that when he arrived at the property there was nothing to be done to stop the flames.
"We couldn't do anything here. It was over. It was so fast," he said.
"Unbelievable really, isn't it,'' the Prime Minister replied, touching his arm.
"I was up at the [Siding Springs] Observatory talking to people up there about how they looked out to see a narrow plume of smoke and then it's just - whoosh and they are leaving as quickly as they can with flames at the height of the observatory tower. It was an amazing firestorm."
She said it was clear that sometimes residents just needed to get out and look after themselves.
Ms Gillard added: "I have been looking at some of the houses as we have been coming up including ones that obviously had a huge firestorm behind them but because of the wind they have survived. There is just a randomness to it. It is hard to explain. You need to know a lot more about fire than I do to explain it."
Asked what they needed, Jeanette said, "Rain. Gentle rain."
Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has warned of tough times on Friday across the state with deteriorating weather.
The Prime Minister said: "The overwhelming impression I am left with is the destructive power of this fire. There are parts of the landscape that look like a moonscape."
She added: "The fire has rightly been described as the perfect storm of fires."
Ms Gillard announced a Government Disaster Recovery fund that will pay $1000 to adults and $400 to children who have lost homes or been evacuated as well as to those with immediate needs.
Mr Fitzsimmons said there were 84 fires still burning in NSW, with 14 uncontained.
In Coonabarabran, temperatures on Friday will be in the high 30s with north-west winds of 30km/h.
Total fire bans across southern areas are expected from the Hunter to greater Sydney and down to the Riverina, with temperatures as high as the mid-40s and NW winds up to 70 km/h and up to 80km/h on the Ranges.
"So, some tough times ahead for firefighters and communities in these areas," Mr Fitzsimmons said.