Both fire and thick black smoke threatened Queanbeyan as firefighters struggled to contain the Beard fire on Thursday.
Flames reached the recycling plant alongside Canberra Avenue and the acrid fumes enveloped the New South Wales town.
"The recycling centre in Underwood Street, Beard has been impacted by the Beard Fire and is producing dangerous levels of thick, black smoke, which will reduce visibility and air quality," a statement from the ACT Emergency Services Agency said.
Residents in nearby streets were told to leave. People in Oaks Estate were told it was too late so they needed to protect themselves.
Many headed for the evacuation centre in the town's showground.
In the roads nearest the fires in Queanbeyan, some were busy hosing down property before getting in their cars to head off.
On Mackeahnie Street, Showvik Modak was outside his apartment block, hosing down plants while his wife gathered belongings and loaded the car.
"This smoke is making my hayfever bad," he said. "When the smoke comes through, it gets worse.
"I'm really getting scared now."
On Ernest Street, Daniel Uttley was wearing a heavy-duty mask as he hosed down his front garden.
"I've had a warning to seek shelter. Police have said 'if you don't need to be here, leave because of the smoke'."
Tom Cairns and Jake Holland were doing construction work on a house further down the street. They stood on the roof and watched the fire.
"I've got a text," Mr Cairns said, but they were staying put because "it's got a few houses to get through first".
At the evacuation centre, people said they had left home just to be on the safe side.
Margot Deegan helped her disabled neighbour get there. "We just felt it was safer so I got Margaret," Ms Deegan said.
We saw all the embers so that was enough. We went. We just had to get out. I get asthma.Lucy Shields
Mother Lucy Shields took her daughters, Ashleigh and Teagan, to the centre. "We are in the approaching path," the mother said.
"We saw all the embers so that was enough. We went. We just had to get out. I get asthma."
Helen Keed and Sandy O'Hara were at the evacuation centre with their pets (Sam, the dog, and Meeko, the cat).
Ms Keed said, "We just got the message on the phone to go."
"We picked up the animals, water and us," added Ms O'Hara.
Was she worried? "I just want to know that I have a home to go back to.
"My grandson is in Oaks Estate and he was told it was too late to leave. I keep texting him and he's all right."
The advice to those on the Oaks Estate, Beard, Harman and Creswood was that they should:
- Seek shelter immediately. It is now too late to leave.
- If you are not in the area, do not return.
- The fire may pose a threat to all lives directly in its path. People in these suburbs are in danger and need to seek immediate shelter as the fire approaches.