The Illawarra is facing its worst bushfire risk in recent history on Tuesday.
National parks have been closed, campers have been evacuated and residents from north to south are on extreme alert, as forecasts of near-record temperatures and strong winds combine to create "catastrophic" fire conditions in the region.
The Southern Gateway tourist centre, Mount Keira and Sublime Point lookouts, the Illawarra Fly and Minnamurra Rainforest will all be shut as a precaution due to the heat and potential bushfires.
Illawarra Zone Rural Fire Service (RFS) Superintendent Richard Cotterill said the combination of dry weather, extreme heat and strong north and north-westerly winds would create "one of the worst fire danger days that we've seen in the Illawarra for a long, long time".
WHERE TO GO: RFS neighbourhood safer places
It is the first time the region's fire risk has been classified as catastrophic since the category was introduced after Victoria's Black Saturday fires in 2009.
"It looks like one of those days when all the holes line up and it presents us with a fairly serious challenge," Mr Cotterill said.
Mr Cotterill spent the day rounding up hundreds of volunteer firefighters and working with police, fire and rescue and national parks staff to ensure "everyone is at a heightened level of preparedness" in the area.
"Basically we've been working with all of the other agencies involved in emergency management as well as volunteer firefighters to ensure everyone is at a heightened level of preparedness," he said.
All NSW Fire Service stations will be manned today, four extra fire trucks will be available and extra resources have been sent to Helensburgh.
For Stanwell Tops Conference Centre maintenance worker Brendon Cowie, news of today's 43-degree forecast brought back vivid memories of Christmas Day 2001, when he helped fight a terrifying blaze that destroyed six houses, a workshop, a nursery, the main dining hall and a 120-bed accommodation facility at the centre.
The 29-year-old was an RFS volunteer at the time and recalls battling huge flames that had already consumed houses and surrounding bushland.
"I just remember the adrenalin rushing, heading up Stanwell Tops and seeing the road in front of the conference centre engulfed in fire," he said.
"As soon as we got in there, it was just fire everywhere and there were gas bottles alight which was very nerve-racking. If they blow up a lot of people can die."
Centre director David Tolman said his harrowing experience in 2001 had reinforced the importance of good planning in today's extreme conditions.
"Every time there's a hot westerly wind I kind of get the shudders, but now we know how dangerous it can be and that we have to be ready," he said.
"We have a fire protection ring and a dedicated water supply which we keep up to speed at all times ... and we just do all the normal stuff to keep the buildings maintained and clearing the leaves."
Residents at risk are advised to evacuate early or stick to a previously agreed bushfire plan. However should that plan fail, they can take shelter at a designated RFS "safer place".
Designed as last resort refuge areas after the devastating 2009 Victorian fires, Illawarra's safer places include Pinecourt Park in Austinmer, Charles Harper Park in Helensburgh, Gerroa Fishermen's Club car park and Foxground RFS station.
WHO TO CONTACT
Call 000 in an emergency to contact police, fire, rescue and ambulance services.
For updates and advice contact the Rural Fire Service 1800679737, visit rfs.nsw.gov.au or follow @rfsnsw on Twitter
For road closures visit .livetraffic.rta.nsw.gov.au or call 131500
For wildlife rescue or injured wildlife contact WIRES on 1300094737
For lost animals contact the Illawarra RSPCA shelter on 42713410
If you see any suspicious activity involving the lighting of fires contact Crime Stoppers on 1800333000