ROLLING COVERAGE: Fires still pose threat

10.49am There are 68 fires currently burning in NSW, 24 of those are uncontained.

10.43am NSW Police have advised people wanting to help to the bushfire victims to donate money, rather than goods. Members of the public who wish to donate can do so through the Salvation Army, Australian Red Cross, the St Vincent De Paul Society NSW or the Blue Mountains City Council Mayoral Relief Fund.

9.30am Good morning. We'll have all the latest bushfire updates for you here today.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 24

9PM UPDATE: All schools in the Southern Highlands area will be open on Thursday, October 24.

7.20pm: While tomorrow's temperatures would be cooler, there was a long way to go in fighting this fire, Rural Fire Service Illawarra zone manager Superintendent Richard Cotterill said.

‘‘We’ve still got a lot of work, days and days and days of very hard work for crews on the ground, and potentially weeks tidying this whole thing right up,’’ Supt Cotterill said on Wednesday.

‘‘Today we had the wind from the north-west,  tonight and tomorrow it’ll be from the south-west so that will put pressure on different parts of the fire ground, different containment lines.’’

Supt Cotterill said the 15,600 hectares already burned still posed a threat to both the Southern Highlands and the Illawarra.

‘‘It’s burnt but there are trees and logs and quite a lot of heavy fuel that will continue to burn both within the perimeter and around the edges for days and days - and potentially longer than that,’’ he said.

‘‘Those trees and logs will smoulder for days and possibly weeks if the weather’s right. To really tidy this up properly we need a couple of weeks of favourable weather.’’

4.55pm: From the RFS twitter: If school closures are required for tomorrow, Thursday 24 October, they will be determined in the next few hours.

4.40PM UPDATE: Fire continues to burn in the Southern Highlands, according to the RFS website. Crews are continuing to monitor conditions as winds have the potential to blow embers past containment lines.

More than 300 firefighters with aerial support are working on the fire and patrolling the fireground.

Advice: Residents should remain vigilant, take conditions seriously and be ready to act. Monitor the situation closely as conditions can change quickly. 

While there is no threat to properties in the Illawarra at this time, residents are also encouraged to remain vigilant and monitor the situation. 

3:25pm: The train line between Kiama and Bomaderry is closed in both directions due to what State Rail has called ‘‘a operational issue’’.

This is believed to be because staffing numbers are low due, in part, to a number of rail staff fighting fires in the Southern Highlands.

Buses have been replacing all trains between Kiama and Bomaderry from 1:50pm today until early tomorrow.

Passengers should allow additional travel time, check indicator boards and listen to station announcements.

3.05pm People are banding together to help those affected by the bushfires.

Last week, Corrimal Rotary club members set up a collection stall  at Corrimal Court and also walked around the German Club’s Oktoberfest celebrations on the weekend.

Four member collected in just a few hours at $1400 at Oktoberfest and, overall, $7500 has been collected so far.

Also, the Salvation Army’s Bushfire Appeal has raised more than a million dollars so far.

People can donate money to the appeal at Woolworths checkouts and, to date $759,000 has been given by customers.

Woolworths pledged to match donations dollar for dollar, so now the total amount raised stands at $1,519,000.

People can still make a donation by either adding it to their purchase or selecting the donation button at the self-serve checkout.

Woolworths will match all donations until November 1.

2.57pm Two fixed wing water bombers have left Albion Park airport to assess the wind condition on the fireground to see if aerial fighting of the fire can resume. The aerial attack was stopped this morning due to the high winds.

The Rural Fire Service say they have been advised the hottest part of the day is now and temperatures and winds should begin to drop soon.

2.55pm Premier Barry O’Farrell said those in the Southern Highlands will not be charged for water used to defend their homes during the bushfire crisis.

Those in the Blue Mountains and the Hunter will not have to pay either.

‘‘In emergencies like this, it’s vital government agencies work together to assist people wherever they can and provide practical help to households – and that’s exactly what we’re doing,’’ Mr O’Farrell said.

‘‘This is a very difficult time for residents in the Blue Mountains, Hunter and Southern Highlands and the last thing they need to be worrying about is how much water they are using and the impact on their bills.’’

The complete list of affected suburbs is: Springwood, Faulconbridge, Hawkesbury Heights, Winmalee, Yellow Rock, Mount Riverview, Emu Heights, Nords Wharf, Caves Beach, Murrays Beach, Cams Wharf,  Raymond Terrace, Tomago, Williamtown, Medowie, Salt Ash, Campvale, Heatherbrae, Fingal Bay, Yanderra,  Bargo,  Buxton and Wilton.

Mr O’Farrell said the offer could be extended to more households depending on conditions and fire movement over the next few days.

2.49pm Fire crews are still patrolling the Bulgo Track fire 2km east of Otford.

The fire, which burnt through 22km of scrubland, is now out but crews will be monitoring it today to ensure it does not reignite.

The fire is currently listed on the RFS website’s incident map but it poses no danger at the moment. If the fire does not reignite today, it will be removed from the map tomorrow.

2.45pm A scrub fire broke out 2 kilometres north of Otford on the Bulgo track. It is now under control.

 2.13pm An emergency alert has been issued for the Springwood fire in the Blue Mountains due to ember showers. Residents are advised to take shelter.

1.58pm A great sentiment from Wingecarribee Council

1.50pm It should go without saying, but DO NOT leave cigarette butts smouldering on the ground. 

NSW Police are reminding people that throwing a lit cigarette from a motor vehicle has maximum fine of $5,500.

If you see a person throwing a cigarette butt from a car or people dropping cigarette butts in areas that could cause a fire contact Triple Zero immediately.

Police have also increased their patrols in bushfire-affected areas, which will be in place until at least next Tuesday, October 29.

Anyone who notices suspicious activity should call police immediately.

1.40pm Firies in the Southern Highlands are working hard to prevent any new fires starting

1.15pm From Wingercarribee Council

1.10pm Many schools are closed in the Southern Highlands today due to nearby fires. St Anthony's at Picton, St Michael's at Mittagong, St Paul's at Moss Vale and St Thomas Aquinas at Bowral are closed.

Tim Gilmore from the Catholic Education Office said a decision would be made later today on closures tomorrow. 

Other schools closed in the region include Buxton Public School, Hilltop Public School, Yanderra Public School, Bilpin Public School, Wilton Public School, Bargo Public School, Grose View Public School, Comleroy Road Public School, Kurrajong North Public School and Kurrajong East Public School.

Further updates to come this afternoon on tomorrow's plan.

1pm Fire crews have now entered the most crucial period of the day for containing the Southern Highlands fire.

Deputy Incident Controller for the Illawarra Zone Inspector Michael Gray said the predicted high temperatures and winds and low humidity are starting to be felt now.

‘‘This is that window that’s open for the next few hours, until things start to cool down and the winds drop off,’’ Insp Gray said.

‘‘The winds today are the biggest factor.’’

He said the Rural Fire Service had already received reports of wind gusts on the fireground of up to 60km/h.

And those winds are blowing in the direction of the Illawarra, which places the region under the threat of ember attack.

‘‘It’s ember attacks that burn down most properties that we see on the news,’’ Insp Gray said.

‘‘The risk of ember attack is for all properties in the Illawarra not just the ones in the bushland.

‘‘This fire is currently burning only 6-8km from the top of Mount Ousley. It’s not that far away and those embers will travel 6-8km quite easily.

‘‘That’s the big message to all the residents of the Illawarra.’’

12.56pm The latest map on fires burning in the Southern Highlands.

12.55 pm An emergency warning has been issued for the Stockrington fire at Minmi, near Newcastle.

Residents are being advised to take shelter and children from Minmi Public School have been relocated to the Community Centre.

12.15pm Fires continue to burn in the Southern Highlands.According to the NSW RFS, there are more than 340 firefighters with aerial support in the area.

A TOTAL FIRE BAN is in force for the Illawarra and Shoalhaven until further notice.

11.50am NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell labelled as ‘‘heartless grubs’’ landlords who raise their rents to make money in the wake of the bushfires.

Mr O’Farrell said he had received a report of a landlord in the Lower Blue Mountains looking to increase the rent because there will be a lot of people who’ve lost their homes looking for temporary accommodation.

He said inspectors from the Department of Fair Trading would be on the ground at bushfire areas to watch out for this behaviour. 

“This sort of low act will not be tolerated and I warn people even thinking about it that the NSW Government come after you,” Mr O’Farrell said.

“Anyone seeking to cash in on this crisis is a heartless grub. Just don’t do it.

‘‘Not only will they named and shamed, they’ll face a fine of up to $220,000 or $1.1 million for corporations.’’

11am  Rural Fire Service Illawarra zone manager Superindendent Richard Cotterill said the fire on the Southern Highlands was still within containment lines and being monitored both on the ground and in the air. However he said the wind was starting to pick up on the fireground.

‘‘Today is going to be a very, very difficult and trying day for everybody,’’ Supt Cotterill said.

‘‘Everyone needs to be mindful that we have a very large fireground out here in the highlands which is in close proximity to a number of highlands’ communities and in reasonable proximity to the Illawarra.

‘‘At this stage there’s still a lot of work to do and we must remain vigilant. At this stage we still have containment but we have a long, long way to go.’’

10.35am A severe weather warning has been issued for damaging winds in the Illawarra.

Strong and gusty west to north-westerly winds will blow across NSW, ahead of a south-westerly change in the afternoon.

The Southern Tablelands, Snowy Mountains and Australian Capital Territory have also been issued with the warning.

The State Emergency Service has advised people to move vehicles under cover, secure loose items in your backyard and keep clear of fallen power lines.

For emergency help ring your local SES Unit on 132 500.

10.10am This map shows fires and their status across the state

10.05am NSW RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons this morning issued these words of thanks to the firefighters battling blazes across the state

"While we all need to be planning and preparing for the worst, of course, we hope that the forecast conditions and potential fire path predictions do not eventuate. However with so much fire activity and such widespread potential, it would be irresponsible to not issue advice, warnings and information. We will continue to work with local fire fighting crews and IMTs, using their local knowledge, to deliver tailored information and warnings to these areas and any other areas that come under threat today."

"Again, thank you to every single person who has played a role and who will continue to play an important role. We must recognise that for so many of our own, it has been really tough going and a very emotional experience. I am sure you would join with me in offering our thoughts, prayers and support for those who have worked to save as much as they could and of course, for those in our community who have lost so much."

9.25am The Hall Road fire in the Southern Highlands continue to burn. Rain overnight did little to ease fire conditions, with hot temperatures, dry winds and low humidity expected to worsen the crisis today.

Illawarra residents are being advised no properties are under threat at the moment, but should remain vigilant and monitor the situation throughout the day.

A total fire ban is in place in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven.

8.40PM : Parts of Wollongong could come under direct threat from bushfires if the worst fears of fire authorities are realised tomorrow.

The Rural Fire Service says backburning efforts to contain a fire in the Southern Highlands during today’s cooler conditions could come to nothing if flames jump containment lines during tomorrow's extreme weather.

The forecast for the Illawarra is for temperatures in the 30s with gusty westerly winds.

‘‘Should the conditions eventuate that would cause containment to be breached, the fire will travel towards the Illawarra,’’ Rural Fire Service Illawarra zone manager Superintendent Richard Cotterill said.

He said conditions tomorrow would be similar to last Thursday, when the fire travelled up to 11 kilometres in four hours.

‘‘If it were to do the same again, in five or six hours we would see fire at the top of the escarpment in the Illawarra,’’ he said. 

5.30PM: On Twitter, from Wollondilly Council:

We have just received confirmation that Wollondilly Anglican College will be open tomorrow and it is up to the parents as to whether their children attend. - about 4pm. 

It has been confirmed that St Anthony's Primary School is also closed tomorrow 23 October.

The following Wollondilly schools have been closed for tomorrow 23 October: Bargo Public School; Buxton Public School; Wilton Public School; Yanderra Public School. Further updates will be posted throughout the afternoon.

... and from Education Communities, a list of closures:

Buxton Public School

Hilltop Public School

Yanderra Public School

Bilpin Public School

Wilton Public School

Bargo Public School

Grose View Public School

Comleroy Road Public School

Kurrajong North Public School

Kurrajong East Public School

2.18pm UPDATE FROM THE RFS: Main points from 2:05pm briefing.

Tomorrow's forecast now expected to be worse than originally predicted. 

All schools in Blue Mountains, parts of the Hawkesbury and Southern Highlands will be closed tomorrow. List soon on RFS website. 

If you don't need to be in the Blue Mountains tomorrow, don't be. If your plan is to leave, leave early - by lunchtime. 

1.06pm People who have lost income because of the NSW bushfires will be able to access 13 weeks of Newstart payments, the federal government has announced. The disaster recovery allowance will be made available to workers, farmers and sole traders affected by the disaster. ‘‘If you can’t go to work because the business in which you work has been affected by these fires, you’re the sort of person who falls into that category,’’ Human Services Minister Marise Payne told reporters at Springwood, in the Blue Mountains today. The same applied to primary producers and sole traders whose business has been damaged.Senator Payne said the payments could be accessed at local Centrelink offices, recovery centres, online or by calling the Disaster Recovery Assistance Hotline 180 22 66.

11.50am FROM THE RFS: main points from this morning's 11:05 briefing: 

*The RFS is tracking a storm cell moving in from Bathurst area, which is moving towards Blue Mountains but not likely to bring much rain.

*Any rain is likely to have negligible effect on the firegrounds - only a millimetre or two likely

*Don't be complacent because of today's cooler conditions. Use today to make final preparations and tonight to discuss with your family what you will do. Severe or extreme fire danger likely tomorrow.

11.28am People affected by bushfires in the Blue Mountains now have access to information and support, following the opening of a recovery centre at Springwood. The recovery centre opened at 10am today and is operating out of the Presbyterian Church Hall on Macquarie Road. The centre has been established to support the short and long term recovery of the Blue Mountains area and provides information and support to those affected by the recent fires. The centre will operate between 8am and 6pm daily while further opening hours will be determined by the needs of the community. A local recovery committee has been established and is chaired by the recovery coordinator and will meet daily.

11.08am Blackbutt Reserve and Bass Point Reserve are closed as long as the total fire ban is in place.

11.07am UPDATE - SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS (WATCH & ACT): Fire continues to burn near the villages of Yerrinbool, Balmoral, Yanderra, Pheasants Nest, Wilton, Bargo, Buxton, Hill Top, Alpine / Aylmerton and Couridjah. Firefighters are continuing to consolidate containment lines and patrol. Picton Road is now open. While there is no threat to properties in the Illawarra at this time, residents are encouraged to remain vigilant and monitor the situation throughout the day. Hill Top Public School and Yanderra Public School are closed today.

10.57am Generous Aussies have already donated $1.2 million dollars to the NSW Bushfire Appeal. The Salvos have already released $500,000 in immediate disaster assistance.

10.55am The NSW Government is set to waive its waste levy for all residents and businesses cleaning-up after the fires. The government has now suspended its waste levy on all waste generated as a result of the bush fires, including bulk waste and asbestos. The change means residents taking bushfire waste to the tip will save between $53 and $107 per tonne of waste, depending on where they live. The exemption applies to Wollongong City Council's Whytes Gully landfill. For more information call the EPA’s Environment Line on 131 555.

10.43am Extra staff from the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Livestock Health and Pest Authorities have been deployed to help stock and companion animal owners in bushfire areas. Employees are currently on hand at a number of evacuation centres across the fire zones to assist with the relocation of both livestock and companion animals. In Richmond, arrangements are in place that large animals, like horses and livestock, can be taken directly to Hawkesbury Showground. Companion animals will be placed at a range of accommodation sites once their owners register at the North Richmond evacuation centre. Arrangements are in place for the care of all animals arriving at any evacuation centre. For more information, call the RFS hotline on 1800 679 737 and visit www.rfs.nsw.gov.au for up-to-date information on fires in NSW.

10.20am REMINDER: Don't forget there is a total fire ban in place for the region today.

10.17am We shouldn’t get too excited about reports of rain the Blue Mountains, the Bureau of Meteorology says. There were media reports of a few drops of rain falling in the Leura area this morning, with hopes more would fall and help the efforts to fight huge bushfires there. About 0.6 millimetres of rain had fallen at Bathurst, west of the main fire fronts, but it wasn’t expected to get any heavier, bureau spokeswoman Julie Evans said.‘‘It’s a quite minimal amount,’’ she told AAP.‘‘We’re not expecting significant rain, unless we’re very lucky.’’Heavier rain has fallen south of Bowral in the Southern Highlands though, she says.A possible thunderstorm in the afternoon could also pose more problems for firefighters if lightning sparks further blazes. (AAP)

10.15am Police are warning of potential asbestos hazards in buildings destroyed during recent bush fires. Owners of fire damaged or destroyed homes and buildings need to be aware of the possibility of asbestos being present. It is advised that if you are attending the area where homes/buildings have been damaged or destroyed by recent fires you need to consider the potential of asbestos and other dangerous materials being present. It is recommended that you check with the local emergency services that it is safe to re-enter your property, avoid unnecessary entry and in particular entry by children, wear a type "P2" dust mask and disposable coveralls.For more information on fire damaged buildings refer to the EPA's website at:http://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/waste/asbestos/home.htm

10.13am Aggressive backburning is providing ‘‘positive results’’ in the Blue Mountains as crews battle to slow a massive fire front, the NSW Rural Fire Service says. This morning, crews managed to merge two out-of-control fires at Lithgow and Mt Victoria, in an effort to stop three fronts creating a dangerous ‘‘mega-fire’’ ahead of hotter and windier weather forecast for Wednesday. RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says they are making progress.‘‘We are seeing positive results of these very deliberate, very targeted, very decisive strategies being deployed particularly in relation to backburning operations,’’ he told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.

10.11am Metropolitan firefighters from interstate will back up hundreds of NSW colleagues who are heading out to help rural crews in the bushfire emergency. Up to 170 NSW Fire and Rescue tankers and engines with almost 800 officers are being sent to fire-ravaged communities in the Blue Mountains today.Ten crews from Queensland and 10 from Melbourne will arrive in Sydney on Wednesday to man metropolitan posts. It’s one of the largest mobilisations in the history of Fire and Rescue NSW, Commissioner Greg Mullins said. He said the fire threat in the Blue Mountains was unparalleled and warranted the ‘‘unprecedented number’’of resources. (AAP)

10.10am Good morning, we'll have the latest on the bushfire crisis here today.

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 22

8.24pm A rescue helicopter is on standby for firefighters who are carrying out very risky backburning in difficult terrain - down gorges and walking tracks - in the Mount Victoria/Blackheath area tonight.

8.17pm 500 interstate firefighters will arrive in NSW tomorrow to help fight fires.

6.44pm There have been two houses and 10 outbuildings destroyed in the Hall Road fire. 

6.15pm Weather conditions have eased in the Southern Highlands/Wollondilly area and the Hall Road fire alert level remains at Watch and Act. Firefighters have contained the earlier spot fires. Picton Road remains open. Visibility may be reduced due to smoke. 

5.42pm Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons:there have been five fire-related arrests statewide since the current outbreak began - all young people.

5.30pm The alert level for the Hall Road fire has been downgraded to Watch and Act due to easing weather conditions. Fire continues to burn in the Southern Highlands near the villages of Yerrinbool, Balmoral, Yanderra, Pheasants Nest, Wilton, Bargo, Buxton, Hill Top, Alpine / Aylmerton and Couridjah in the Southern Highlands.

5.18pm Picton Road has reopened between the Hume Motorway and M1 Princes Motorway (Mount Ousley Road) after today's earlier closure.

4.58pm: Advice to Wilton residents is unchanged since emergency warning was issued just before 3pm: be alert to burning embers. Put out any spot fires which may start on your property. Take shelter if the fire impacts on your property. Protect yourself from the heat of the fire.

4.55pm: Wilton: A number of spot fires have started but are being contained to the southern side of Picton Road. The Air Crane and additional fire trucks have been sent to the area.

4.13pm Water pressure could be low in areas where customers are fighting fires, according to Sydney Water. There is an emergency help line - 13 20 90 - for those affected.

3.43pm The fire in the Springwood and Faulconbridge area has flared - emergency warning now in place. Firefighters are working in the area between Chapman Avenue and Grose Road.

3.36pm Looters who take advantage of the state's bushfire-devastated communities will be "shown no mercy", NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione says. Commissioner Scipione said police had received only a couple of reports of suspected looting, and had responded with patrols involving officers from the Public Order and Riot Squad. "It’s beyond comprehension that with thousands of homes and lives being at risk, people think it’s clever or fun to benefit from the community’s heartache,” Commissioner Scipione said. “Looting is a low act. It’s as simple as that and we will not allow criminals to get away with it. People who think they can take advantage of the community’s misery, can think again. We will show no mercy." Dial Triple Zero (000) if you see a crime in progress.

2.55pm BREAKING NEWS: An emergency warning is in place for a fire burning near the villages of  Yerrinbool, Balmoral, Yanderra, Pheasants Nest, Wilton, Bargo, Buxton, Hill Top, Alpine / Aylmerton and Couridjah in the Southern Highlands. Burning embers are being blown towards Wilton village and surrounding areas. Picton Road is being closed due to fire activity. People in the area of Wilton should be alert to burning embers. Put out any spot fires which may start on your property. Take shelter if the fire impacts on your property. Protect yourself from the heat of the fire

2.52pm A social media campaign has been launched to provide formal dresses, make-up and photography for graduating high school students who have lost everything in the NSW bushfires. The Firey Formal Dress Exchange has attracted more than 1300 followers and allows anyone with a formal dress collecting dust to donate it to someone in need. Visitors to the page are encouraged to help their ‘‘sisters who have lost their formal dress in the fire’’ and ‘‘post a picture of your dress and its size etc. so they can take their pick’’. Many of the dresses are less than a year old, most have only been worn once. (AAP)

2.10pm Google has launched a crisis map, which displays current information about where fires are burning, and Google Public Alerts, which can automatically notify people if they are looking up, or are currently in, an affected area. Automatic bushfire alerts are available on all Android phones and for people who have the Google Search app on iOS. The Crisis Map is available on all devices and platforms via google.org/crisismap/australia

2.07pm Charities are asking people who want to help NSW bushfire victims to donate cash instead of food or clothing. (AAP)

2.06pm Doctors are urging people to stay indoors as much as possible and avoid exercising outside as heavy smoke rises above bushfire-hit NSW. NSW Health says many areas in the state are experiencing poor to very poor air quality, even hundreds of kilometres away from the fires.The Australian Medical Association’s NSW president, Brian Owler, says heavy exercise should be avoided.‘‘The last thing you want to do is to go out for a jog when you’re breathing in such heavy pollution,’’ he told AAP.Asthmatics should also ensure they have their puffers with them at all times, he added. Professor Wayne Smith from NSW Health urged asthma sufferers to follow their asthma action plan.‘‘Fine particles can irritate the lungs of healthy adults, so it is best to avoid any prolonged outdoor exercise,’’ he said in a statement. (AAP)

2pm ALERT: Yerrinbool residents - a decision will be posted at 6pm, letting residents know whether they can return to their properties. The alert comes after residents were advised to consider re-locating for the day.

12.44pm UPDATE: Hall Road Fire, Balmoral Village (Southern Highlands). Around 200 firefighters are working on a fire burning near the villages of Yerrinbool, Balmoral, Yanderra, Pheasants Nest, Wilton, Bargo, Buxton, Hill Top, Alpine/Aylmerton and Couridjah in the Southern Highlands. This fire has burnt more than 14,000 hectares and remains uncontained. There is a potential threat of containment lines being breached and threatening the townships of Yerrinbool, Balmoral, Yanderra, Pheasants Nest, Wilton, Bargo, Buxton, Hill Top, Alpine / Aylmerton and Couridjah. Backburning operations will continue today to strengthen containment lines. People in the area will see smoke. A TOTAL FIRE BAN is in force for the Illawarra / Shoalhaven area until further notice. Residents are reminded to remain vigilant and monitor the situation closely as conditions will be changing frequently throughout the day. Check your bush fire survival plan and prepare for a bush fire in your area. If your plan is to leave, or you are not prepared, leave early. While there is no threat to properties in the Illawarra at this time, residents are encouraged to remain vigilant and monitor the situation throughout the day.

12.40pm Police are questioning a boy over the fire that closed Newcastle Airport last week. NSW Police said the boy is assisting with inquiries into the Port Stephens fire, which breached containment lines and destroyed several sheds. It burnt very close to Newcastle Airport at Williamtown, forcing its closure on Thursday, and billowed black smoke that could be seen from the Newcastle CBD. Fairfax Media reports the boy, aged 11, is expected to be charged over the blaze.

12.33pm TRAFFIC ALERT: BLUE MOUNTAINS: The Great Western Highway remains open but motorists (including heavy vehicles) are advised to avoid all non-essential travel.

12.29pm A community meeting will be held at Buxton School hall tonight at 7. All Balmoral, Buxton, Couridjah & Bargo residents should attend.

11.53am Police have charged a 14-year-old boy with starting a fire near a tennis club at Rutherford. About 1.15pm yesterday, a fire was discovered in vegetation near a tennis club on the New England Highway. Several members of the public told police they saw a teenage boy running through traffic away from the fire. Firefighters attended and were able to extinguish the blaze, which burned 200 square metres around the club, more than 20 trees and a section of the club’s fencing. Investigators then arrested a 14-year-old boy at his home yesterday afternoon. He was taken to Maitland Police Station and later charged with intentionally causing fire and being reckless as to its spread and causing or setting fire to property. He was refused bail and will appear in court today.

11.41am  ‘‘Scumbags’’ who loot houses abandoned during the bushfires will be tracked down, Premier Barry O’Farrell says. There’s been no official confirmation of looting yet but reports that abandoned homes are being robbed are appearing on social media. Mr O’Farrell says any looters will be caught.‘‘I’m just appalled that at these critical times, when people have been evacuated from homes or whether people have left homes because of fire dangers, that other scumbags in the community would front up and seek to rob them,’’ he told reporters in Sydney.‘‘Communities are angry but importantly I know that police are determined to track these people down.’’ (AAP)

11.32am TRAFFIC ALERT: Picton Road has reopened in both directions between Macarthur Drive and Mount Ousley Road, following its closure due to bushfire. However, there continues to be smoke in the area so motorists should continue to exercise caution.

11.17am Firefighters are deploying ‘‘high-risk’’ backburning strategies in the NSW Blue Mountains as they fight to save lives and homes. More than 200 homes have already been lost in the fires that have raged west of Sydney since Thursday, and 59 fires are still burning this morning. The great fear is that a ‘‘mega-fire’’ may form in worsening conditions on Wednesday. Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says firefighters are taking ‘‘considered’’ but risky moves to strengthen containment lines around the massive State Mine fire that flanks the mountains’ northwest side. Firefighters have successfully conducted backburning along more than 20 kilometres of Bells Line of Road. But the move risked accelerating the feared joining up of the State Mine fire with a blaze at Mount Victoria, which authorities say is likely to happen in coming days.Mr Fitzsimmons says the plan is ‘‘paying off’’ so far.‘‘If it comes off, and works, it’s a wonderful firefighting effort,’’ he told reporters on Monday morning.‘‘But there is every likelihood investing in a strategy like that that it will breach, that it will fail - and then you’ve got a fire that will cross over everything you’ve just tried to implement.’’The commissioner also moved to allay fears of mass evacuations across the mountains after warning on Sunday that populated areas like Katoomba and Leura could be affected. (AAP)

10.08am The federal government is being urged to reconsider changes it made to the eligibility criteria for bushfire victims to receive emergency funds. The Disaster Recovery Payment is now being made available to victims of the NSW bushfires who have been injured or had their homes damaged or destroyed. But the government has been criticised for changing the funding arrangements so those isolated from their homes or experiencing power shortages can’t access payments as quickly. Joint disaster arrangements between the federal and state governments are also offering help in the form of food, clothing and accommodation. (AAP)

9.48am Every resource NSW can muster - including possibly the military - is being sent to fight the Blue Mountains bushfires, as fears grow that a mega-fire could form. While there are 56 fires still active across the state on Monday - 12 uncontained - the focus is the large State Mine fire near Lithgow. Residents in the township of Bell were on Monday morning again urged to evacuate ahead of temperatures in the mid-30s, low humidity and problematic winds around 25km/h.The great concern in the region west of Sydney is the chance of a mega-fire forming in worsening conditions on Wednesday. (AAP)

9.21am WATCH & ACT BALMORAL VILLAGE UPDATE: Watch and Act - Hall Road Fire. Around 200 firefighters are working on a fire burning near the villages of Balmoral, Yanderra, Bargo, Pheasants Nest, Wilton, Hill Top and Yerrinbool in the Southern Highlands. This fire has burnt more than 14,000 hectares and remains uncontained. The alert status for this fire is Watch and Act. Under forecasted northwesterly winds there is a potential threat of containment lines being breached and threatening the townships of Hill Top, Yerrinbool, Bargo and Alpine/Aylmerton. Backburning operations will continue today to strengthen containment lines. People in the area will see smoke. A total fire ban is in force for the Illawarra/Shoalhaven area until further notice. While there is no threat to properties in the Illawarra at this time, residents are encouraged to remain vigilant and monitor the situation throughout the day. Check and follow your Bush Fire Survival Plan and prepare yourself for the potential of a bush fire in your area.

9.18am Check out this incredible footage from the Bargo pumper, taken on Thursday afternoon.

9am Good morning. We'll have all the latest bushfire information for you here today.

Residents of the Blue Mountain township of Bell have again been urged to evacuate as the State Mine fire continues to cause authorities major concerns.The large fire near Lithgow is also burning around the areas of Dargan, Clarence and Bilpin.An emergency alert telephone warning message was sent to the community of Bell on Sunday, and the Rural Fire Service (RFS) reissued the advice on Monday morning.‘‘The community of Bell are advised to leave now if not prepared and travel west along the Bells Line of Road towards Lithgow.’’The Lithgow Workers Club is open as an evacuation centre. (AAP)

MONDAY, OCTOBER 21

22PM UPDATE: More than 270 firefighters continue to work on a fire burning near the villages of  Alpine, Aylmerton, Balmoral, Yanderra, Bargo, Pheasants Nest, Wilton, Hill Top and Yerrinbool in the Southern Highlands.

This fire has burnt more than 12,000ha and remains uncontained. The alert status currently is Watch and Act.

NSW Police have door knocked residents in Yerrinbool with information.

Where conditions allow crews will continue backburning to strengthening containment lines.

A total fire ban is in force for the Illawarra-Shoalhaven area until further notice.

For more information, visit the RFS website.

6PM UPDATE: Schools in the fire affected area of the Southern Highlands will remain closed, authorities have confirmed.

Hill Top Public School will be closed on Monday, while Yanderra Public School will be closed until further notice.

For further information please the Department of Education website at www.schools.nsw.gov.au

5.45pm: Premier Barry O’Farrell has declared a state of emergency for NSW to deal with the bushfire crisis.

The declaration gives special powers to emergency services personnel, including the right to order the public to leave or not to enter an area, the right to demolish a building and prevents people from disobeying an order given under these powers.

“The RFS Commissioner has advised weather conditions over the next few days will deteriorate significantly and that there is potential for a significant and widespread danger to life and property across the State,” Mr O’Farrell said.

“This is not an action taken lightly by either the Commissioner, the Minister or myself, but it’s important the Rural Fire Service and other emergency services have the powers and the resources they need to combat this threat.’’

4.30pm Southern Highlands residents with domestic pets or livetsock are advised that Moss Vale Showground on Robertson Road has been opened as a temporary evacuation point.

People with small animals being told to bring an appropriate cage, food, and any medications their animals require.

The fire situation remains largely unchanged from previous alerts as of 4.30pm.

2:50pm The Rural Fire Service has warned residents along the coast to prepare for ember attacks as conditions deteriorate with hot and dry north westerly winds expected this afternoon. 

12.30pm Over 270 firefighters continue to work on a fire burning near the villages of  Alpine, Aylmerton, Balmoral, Yanderra, Bargo, Pheasants Nest, Wilton, Hill Top and Yerrinbool in the Southern Highlands.

This fire has burnt over 12,000ha and remains uncontained. Under forecasted north-westerly winds there is a potential threat of containment lines being breached and threatening the townships of Alpine, Aylmerton, Hill Top, Yerrinbool and Bargo.

NSW Police are door knocking residents in Yerrinbool with information.

Where conditions allow crews will continue backburning to strengthen containment lines.

A total fire ban is in force for the Illawarra/Shoalhaven area until further notice.

10.30am Over 100 firefighters continue to work on a fire burning near the villages of Alpine, Aylmerton, Balmoral, Yanderra, Bargo, Pheasants Nest, Wilton, Hill Top and Yerrinbool in the Southern Highlands.  

This fire has burnt over 12,000 hectares and remains uncontained. The RFS alert status currently is Watch and Act.

Under forecasted north-westerly winds there is a potential threat of containment lines being breached and threatening the townships of Alpine, Aylmerton, Hill Top, Yerrinbool and Bargo.

Where conditions allow crews will continue backburning to strengthen containment lines.

A total fire ban is in force for the Illawarra/Shoalhaven area until further notice.

The RFS said while there was no threat to properties in the Illawarra at this time, they would encourage residents to remain vigilant and monitor the situation throughout the day.

Community safety volunteers from the Illawarra will be travelling around communities today providing information to residents about the current situation and what they can do to prepare.

Picton Road is closed between Macarthur Drive and the M1 Princes Motorway (Mount Ousley Road). Motorists are able to access the township of Wilton from the Hume Highway and Wilton Road, however Wilton Road is not suitable for heavy vehicles.

For the latest traffic information, visit www.livetraffic.com  or call 132 701.

7.30am  Easing weather conditions affecting the fire burning near the villages of Balmoral, Yanderra, Bargo, Pheasants Nest, Wilton, Hill Top and Yerrinbool in the Southern Highlands has meant that the RFS has downgraded the fire status to Watch and Act.

The RFS states that any bushfire threat to Yerrinbool and Hill Top has reduced.

There is no immediate threat to infrastructure within water catchment areas east of the Hume Highway.

An uncontained fire has burnt over 9300 hectares, crossing Picton Road and is burning within the Sydney Catchment area near Macarthur Drive, Wilton.

The fire has crossed the railway line where it crosses the freeway at Yerrinbool. The rail line was reopened this morning.

Where conditions allow crews have been backburning to strengthening containment lines, this work will continue today.

Picton Road remains closed between Macarthur Drive and the M1 Princes Motorway (Mount Ousley Road). 

Motorists are able to access the township of Wilton from the Hume Highway and Wilton Road, however Wilton Road is not suitable for heavy vehicles.

Motorist are urged to avoid all bushfire affected areas, and drive with extreme caution in areas that are experiencing heavy smoke and poor visibility.

For the latest traffic information regarding state road closures due to bushfires or incidents on NSW roads, visit www.livetraffic.com or call 132 701.

Total fire bans remain in place in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven today, as well as the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter and Central Ranges regions.

4.00pm Total fires bans have been declared for the Illawarra.

Greater Sydney (including the Blue Mountains and Central Coast), Greater Hunter, the Shoalhaven and the Central Ranges are also under the ban, which will limit the possibility of new fires starting.

The bans come into affect from midnight tonight until further notice.

3.20pm Picton Road remains closed between Macarthur Drive and the M1 Princes Motorway (Mount Ousley Road). 

Southbound lanes of the Hume Motorway have reopened between Yanderra and Yerrinbool following a backburning operation the road earlier today.

Motorists should avoid all bushfire affected areas, and drive with extreme caution in areas that are experiencing heavy smoke and poor visibility.

2.45pm An emergency warning has been issued for a bushfire in the Springwood area. The fire has intensified around St Columba's High School.

Residents are advised to be alert to any burning embers and spot fires and to put their bushfire action plans into place.

12.45pm Wilson Drive at Balmoral is currently closed between Balmoral Village and Hilltop due to bushfire activity.

Hilltop residents are advised to head south to Mittagong and Balmoral residents should travel north to Buxton to avoid the road closure.

A community meeting will be held tonight at Yanderra Public School on Harley Street, Yanderra at 7pm.

Meantime, an emergency warning is in place for the towns of Bell and Dargan as a large bushfire between Lithgow and Bilpin continues to burn.

9:55am: NSW Police have advised people returning to homes damaged or destroyed by bushfires to be aware of the possibility of asbestos being present.

Home built before 1987 could contain asbestos. While the risk is low if debris is not disturbed, people entering damaged homes should wear protective clothing, masks and take general safety precautions.

8.00am UPDATE from RFS: A fire is continuing to burn near Balmoral, Yanderra, Bargo, Pheasants Nest and Wilton in the Southern Highlands.

The fire has burnt over 9,000 hectares and is now burning near Macarthur Drive, Wilton and has crossed the railway line where it crosses the freeway at Yerrinbool.

Fire crews will today continue to backburn to strengthen containment lines, and will continue for the new few days, creating a significant amount of smoke.

Yanderra residents are now able to return to their properties via Tylers Road.

Balmoral and Bargo residents are now able to return to their properties, with backburning taking place around Bargo.

Yerinbool or Hill Top residents should prepare for a bushfire in the area. Check and follow your bush fire survival plan.

6.30pm Buses are supplementing trains between Wollongong and Port Kembla due to staff shortages.

A Transport Management Centre spokeswoman said buses had been running to supplement the train services since around 2.50pm.

It was not known when full train services would be running again.

5.35pm: Shoalhaven City Council is advising residents that the Bendeela Recreational Area and Tallowa Dam have been closed to public access until further notice.

Both areas have been closed as a result of the forecast extreme fire weather conditions and total fire bans in place across the region.

The Bendeela Recreational Area and Tallowa Dam are both under the management of the Sydney Catchment Authority.

For more information and updates on the status of both areas please visit www.sca.nsw.gov.au.

5.30pm: Buses are replacing trains between Picton and Moss Vale due to the partial closure of the Southern Highlands Line because of a bushfire at Yerrinbool.

Passengers are advised to allow plenty of additional travel time and listen to announcements.

Meanwhile, motorists travelling south on the Hume Motorway are experiencing significant delays in the Southern Highlands.

One southbound lane on the motorway is closed two kilometres south of the Bargo exit at Yerrinbool.

Southbound traffic is queued at least five kilometres. Motorists are still advised to avoid non-essential travel through the area.

For the latest traffic information, visit www.livetraffic.com or call 132 701.

For the latest public transport information, visit www.131500.com.au or call 131500.

4.30pm A fire is continuing to burn near the villages of Balmoral, Yanderra, Bargo, Pheasants Nest and Wilton in the Southern Highlands.

An uncontained fire has crossed Picton Road and is burning within the Sydney Catchment area near Macarthur Drive, Wilton.

The fire has burnt approximately 8000 hectares and more than 60 firefighters are on scene.

The fire has crossed the railway line where it crosses the freeway at Yerrinbool - the rail line has been closed.

One southbound lane on the Hume Motorway is closed two kilometres south of the Bargo on-ramp at Yerrinbool.

Picton Road is closed between Macarthur Drive and the M1 Princes Mortorway (Mount Ousley Road) and is likely to remain closed for up to three days.

There are reports of ash and smoke drifting into Mittagong, however there is no threat to that town at this stage. 

Significant back burning is underway and fire crews are working to have containment lines in place before the arrival of warm, windy weather forecast for Sunday.

4pm Bushfires have closed one southbound lane on the Hume Motorway, two kilometres south of the Bargo on-ramp at Yerrinbool.

One southbound lane on the motorway remains open but motorists are advised to avoid all non-essential travel. Motorists should expect delays and exercise caution.

Picton Road remains closed between Macarthur Drive and the Princes Motorway (Mount Ousley Road).

Meanwhile, the Southern Highlands train line remains partially closed between Picton and Moss Vale due to the bushfire.

Passengers are advised to delay their trip THERE ARE NO replacement buses.

2.35pm TRAIN ALERT - SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS:

2.31pm UPDATE: A fire has been reported between the Old Hume Highway and the railway line at Yerrinbool. Crews are being responded to the fire now and will be supported by aircraft. The main southern railway has been closed and the Hume Highway will be closed if there is a danger with visibility.

2.27pm UPDATE: Yerrinbool - scrub fire @ Old Hume Highway, Yerrinbool. STATUS: Under Control

2.26pm From AAP: The NSW bushfires which still threaten hundreds of homes could be the most destructive in more than 40 years, as investigations are launched into whether they were started deliberately. At least one man is dead, and scores of properties have been damaged by the fires, which are raging worst at Lake Macquarie on Central Coast, around Springwood on the Lower Blue Mountains and between Lithgow and Bilpin. NSW Police have confirmed they are investigating whether any of the blazes was deliberately lit ‘‘as a matter of course’’, but no determinations have been made. Experts are now predicting the fires could be the most destructive since 1968, when over 100 houses were also lost in similar areas. Professor Ross Bradstock, the director of the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, said conditions were such that the blazes could burn for weeks.‘‘On average there has been one destructive fire a decade in the Blue Mountains, but these appear to be the most destructive fires since 1968,’’ Professor Bradstock said.‘‘We are in a very dry situation in the greater Sydney region and when these landscapes dry severely, many of the natural barriers to fire are removed.’’

2.23pm BARGO: Crews reportedly responding to fire behind properties on Elvy St, Bargo

2.16pm Relationships Australia NSW is concerned for the families and communities impacted by the bushfires across NSW this week. People can be affected by community emergencies in various ways – the anxiety of imminent danger; dealing with uncertainty; stress on relationships; the experience of loss; and supporting others, particularly children, through the crisis. The fatigue and worry of constant vigilance and concern for neighbours and family can take its toll. In times of crisis it’s important for people to remember to take care of themselves too. Relationships Australia NSW is offering free counselling and support for anyone impacted by the bushfires in any way

1.27pm Live bushfire information from the Rural Fire Service of NSW

1.25pm From AAP: Children, older adults and people with heart and lung conditions are being warned to be extra careful, as bushfires cause pollution across the state. A spike in air pollution has occurred across parts of NSW, with many areas experiencing poor to very poor air quality, NSW Health said today. Children, the elderly and people with heart and lung conditions are particularly susceptible, the department said. Even if the fires are burning hundreds of kilometres away, Professor Wayne Smith said smoke particles can cause itchy or burning eyes, throat irritation or a runny nose, and aggravate existing illnesses including bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.‘‘The best way to avoid breathing in the smoke is to remain inside with the windows and doors closed, preferably in an air-conditioned building,’’ Professor Smith said in a statement.‘‘Asthma sufferers need to follow their Asthma Action Plan and take their relieving medication where necessary. If symptoms get worse, asthma sufferers need to seek medical advice.’’ (AAP)

1.22pm TRAFFIC UPDATE: Lady Wakehurst Drive between McKell Ave and Otford is closed in both directions due to fire. Avoid the area.

1.21pm As bushfires blaze across Sydney’s West, hundreds of animals face the threat of injury and death. Many families who have lost their homes or have been evacuated will also be struggling to find shelter for their beloved pets at this time. Animal Welfare League NSW (AWL) is offering assistance to local community members with injured or displaced animals. The AWL Veterinary Hospital at Kemps Creek is on standby to provide veterinary care for injured strays or family pets from the bushfires. AWL also operates two animal shelters in the area at Kemps Creek and West Hoxton, and can provide temporary emergency shelter for dogs, cats, and livestock. 

1.17pm A little update on parks closed due to bushfires:

1.10pm Re smoke over Mittagong - don't call triple 0 unless it's an emergency.

12.14 SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS UPDATE:

12.12pm BULGA TRACK: a scrub fire is burning on the Bulga Track, about two kilometres east of Otford. The blaze is being controlled.

12.09pm Meeting to be held in Wilton tonight to discuss the fire situation:

11.54am SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS UPDATE:

11.52am Vinnies has launched a St Vincent de Paul Society NSW Bushfire Appeal. To make a donation, please visit Vinnies.org.au or call 13 18 12.

11.50am Many hotels in bushfire-affected regions are offering assistance to those affected by the crisis. In Macarthur, hotels at Tahmoor, Bargo and Picton are the gathering point for communities, offering to assist where possible. In the Blue Mountains, the Imperial Hotel Mount Victoria is being used as a command post by emergency services, while at Winmalee, the Winmalee Tavern stayed open to assist with people who were trapped in the area. At Lake Macquarie, some hotels are already at capacity after accommodating people affected by the fires near Catherine Hill Bay. In Bargo, about 150 residents took shelter at their local pub last night.

11.48pm The Public Information and Inquiry Centre (PIIC), which has been opened to assist members of the public in relation to bush fire information, has taken 969 calls to date. The telephone number to call is 1800 227 228. Members of the public are reminded to delay all non-essential travel in fire affected areas and to monitor emergency websites for updated advice and warnings. For all updated bushfire information members of the public should go to www.rfs.nsw.gov.au Police are again reminding residents and onlookers stay away from the fire damaged areas at the Blue Mountains, Lithgow, Lake Macquarie and Wingecarribee Shire. There are live wires, fallen trees and hazardous materials within these areas, making it unsafe for people. Police will have measures in place to protect resident’s property.

11.42am Members of the public who wish to donate are asked to do so via the Salvation Army donation appeal on www.salvos.org.au or call the Salvation Army on 137258. Please don’t organise appeals for donated goods, you might be left with them if no one wants to take them. Members of the public should contact their insurance companies if their properties have sustained damage or have been destroyed. The Insurance Council can be contacted on 1800 734 621.

11.40am All permits to burn are suspended in the Shoalhaven. For further information, permit holders should contact their permit issuing officer or the Shoalhaven Fire Control Centre on 4424 4424. 

11.38am Member for Kiama Gareth Ward has announced that the NSW Government has put in place legal protections to ensure emergency services volunteers involved in current bush fire-fighting operations are not penalised by their employer for giving up their time.“They have today signed an order ensuring volunteers who participate in operations relating to the current bush fires will be protected from victimisation by their employers," he said. “This order triggers an offence meaning an employer can be fined if they are found to have taken negative action against a volunteer and allows a court to make directions, including that a sacked worker be reinstated."

11.37am NAB customers affected by the ongoing NSW bushfire emergency can access a range of relief measures. All NAB customers affected by the bushfires are eligible for support and are encouraged to contact the bank to discuss their individual circumstances. Business customers should contact their banker. For more information and assistance, customers can visit nab.com.au/nabcare, their local NAB branch, contact their banker directly or call NAB Care on 1800 701 599.

10.56am The latest from the RFS on the situation in the Highlands:

10.49am BALMORAL FIRE UPDATE:

10.44am From AAP: Labor senator Doug Cameron has raised concerns some residents in the Blue Mountains did not heed emergency warnings ahead of yesterday’s firestorm. Senator Cameron, a long time resident of the region west of Sydney, praised the efforts of emergency services in fighting the blaze and helping the local community.‘‘My big concern is that people were ignoring some of the emergency texts that we were getting,’’ Senator Cameron told ABC television.‘‘I was actually trying to convince people to move out. So that’s not a good sign.’’Senator Cameron said recovery from the blaze would be ‘‘very painful’’ for many in the community, and called for a coordinated approach to the bushfire disaster.‘‘Local government, state government, federal government and all the agencies pooling together to make sure that people get the best support they possibly can,’’ he said.‘‘Everyone is saying they’ve never seen anything like this before.’’More than 100 homes are estimated to have been lost in the Blue Mountains fires.

10.07am A man has died defending his home from a bushfire on the NSW Central Coast, the Rural Fire service says. An RFS spokesman told AAP the 63-year-old man suffered a heart attack while he was fighting a fire at his home at Lake Munmorah on Thursday afternoon.Attempts were made to resuscitate him at the scene but he died at Wyong hospital. (AAP)

9.40am The RFS is warning people to stay out of fire zones.

9.39am From AAP: The worst bushfire crisis in NSW in a decade is still ‘‘very active’’ despite improved conditions, as damage assessment crews head to fire grounds where around 100 properties are feared destroyed. Interstate firefighters are on their way to NSW to help battle the state’s worst bushfires in a decade. Firefighters are today defending properties on the eastern side of Murrays Beach at Lake Macquarie on the Central Coast and around 170 firefighters are continuing to battle a blaze at Springwood, which had become active again. A fire is continuing to burn near the villages of Balmoral, Yanderra and Bargo in the Southern Highlands. NSW Rural Fire Services spokesman Brendan Doyle says the state’s most serious fire at Wyong is burning close to homes at Waynes Beach.‘‘It is still an emergency warning. It’s burning near homes and it’s shutting the road network around there,’’ he told reporters at RFS headquarters. He said Swansea RSL was available for fire-affected people in the area to take refuge.Around 2000 firefighters were currently battling blazes across the state, with 368 vehicles deployed, while 82 aircraft have either been deployed or are on standby across NSW.

9.28am Good morning! We're going to keep you posted on all the latest from the bushfires here.

FRIDAY

9.14pm: The RFS reports that the Hancocks Fire is burning to the west of Wandandian near Bollerang Road. Properties in this area are expected to come under threat later this evening.

See http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au for more details. Continue listening to your local radio station or call the NSW RFS Bush Fire Information Line on 1800 679 737.

For information on road closures, check http://livetraffic.rta.nsw.gov.au. Roads may be closed without warning.

8pm: Picton Road is now open at Mount Ousley Rd after being closed earlier due to a bushfire. Meantime, RFS crews have extinguished a grass fire burning in Coomaditchie Reserve, near Warrawong, this evening.

Tankers were called in to fight the blaze, while a fixed-wing aircraft doused the fire from above.

7.55pm: An emergency warning has been issued for residents of Hancock Creek Road at Wandandian.

7.50PM: Traffic is still gridlocked on Macquarie Pass after a truck jack-knifed. Motorists are being let though in ‘‘dribs and drabs’’.

Light traffic can use Jamberoo Mountain Road, however one lane is closed due to roadworks.

The Hume Motorway remains closed between Mittagong and Wilton and there is a six kilometre queue at Picton Road heading south.

7.05pm: Illawarra Rural Fire service crews have been called to a bush fire at Coomaditchie, near Warrawong.

Illawarra Rural Fire Service inspector Michael Gray said several crews and a fixed-wing aircraft had been sent to the blaze.

He said it was vital for residents on the coast to also prepare for ember attacks from fires burning to the west.

"We still have that westerly wind at the moment - residents need to be mindful of fire for the next few days," he said.

"We've had reports today of burning leaves landing on houses near the beaches. 

"It's not just residents who live in the bush under threat."

6.53pm Mount Ousley Road has been closed at the Picton Road junction as a precaution.

A Wollongong police spokesman said the fire was understood to have jumped the Hume Highway and was heading east towards Picton Road.

He said emergency services were preparing for a south westerly wind change, due around 8pm.

6.42pm Wilton Service Station attendant Sharmayne Walklate said a large number of people had been buying goods in store due to the Hume Highway being cut.

She said despite warnings homes were under threat in the town, there had been no evacuation order given.

Despite that, Ms Walklate said she was worried.

“There’s a lot of smoke up behind the back of my home,” she said.

“Lots of [fire fighters] are out their fighting at the moment.”

5.26pm The RFS has warned fire is now threatening properties in Wilton.

4.26pm The Hume Highway remains closed between Picton Rd and Old Hume Hwy. Avoid the area.

4.19pm Strong winds forecasted for this afternoon.

4.14pm Ash and smoke from the Balmoral fire is visible in Wollongong

4.10pm The fire at South Nowra has been downgraded.

4.09pm Macquarie Pass is closed in both directions following a car and bus accident. It is believed the bus was attempting to avoid the Hume Hwy and detoured through the pass.

4.04pm The Public Information and Inquiry Centre has been opened to assist members of the public in relation to bush fire information.

The telephone number is 1800 227 228.

Members of the public are reminded to delay all non-essential travel in fire affected areas and to monitor emergency websites for updated advice and warnings.

4.00pm Robertson Fire Brigade just tweeted this pic of Sth Highlands fires burning north of Roberston

3.57pm: RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers says it looks as if homes have been lost

 3.50pm SOUTH NOWRA UPDATE: Emergency Warning - Quinn's Lane fire, South Nowra. A grass fire is burning in the area of Quinn's Lane at South Nowra. Firefighters are on scene. People in the area bounded by Quinn's Road, Browns Road, Old Southern Road and the Princes Highway should seek shelter as the fire impacts. Monitor the situation. Follow your Bush Fire Survival Plan. If your life is at risk, call Triple Zero (000) immediately.Continue to stay up to date with the bush fire situation by checkinghttp://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au, listening to your local radio station or by calling the NSW RFS Bush Fire Information Line on 1800 679 737.

3.37pm The RFS website has crashed, due to huge traffic. Stay off the website if you can!

3.35pm All Shoalhaven senior summer soccer has been cancelled tonight due to fires near the area.

3.31pm Reports that Bargo & Pheasants Nests residents being urged to evacuate now, amid fears a cool weather change will spread a bushfire to their towns

3.30pm Some fires also burning in Campbelltown:

3.23pm Dr Samantha Thomas from Wollongong popped this photo on Instagram:

3.21pm Seven major fires are burning across NSW under the highest alert level, fueled by hot conditions and strong winds with reports homes have been lost at Springwood. As of 3pm the emergency warnings are in place for fires at Lithgow, Camden in south-west Sydney, Springwood in the Blue Mountains, South Norwa, Port Stephens, Mussewllbrook and Balmoral in the Southern Highlands. Property protection is being carried out with homes under threat around Lithgow and in Yanderra near Balmoral in the Southern Highlands. As well as fueling the flames, the strong winds are also causing a hinderance with firefighting aircraft grounded at Lithgow as crews on the ground battle to protect homes. Mulitple fires around the Blume Mountains are also causing trouble

3.16pm NSW Police are urging members of the public who are near fire affected areas to delay their travel, unless crucial. Police are also urging members of the public to monitor the Rural Fire Service and other emergency service websites and your local radio stations to keep up to date with changing fire conditions.

3.07pm The Southern Highlands News has just tweeted that people in Yanderra are trying to re-enter the area. The firies have advised people not to try & re-enter the town.

3.02pm An emergency telephone alert has been sent to Yanderra residents:

2.53pm Premier Barry O’Farrell has encouraged MPs whose electorates are affected by bushfires to leave parliament and help where they can. Across the state, 595 firefighters were battling 78 bush and grassfires, 31 of them uncontained. Conditions were ‘‘rapidly deteriorating’’ with strong, hot and dry winds hampering firefighting efforts. Five fires were at emergency warning status. In parliament, Mr O’Farrell encouraged MPs whose electorates were affected to leave.‘‘There is not much we can do except wish those extraordinary volunteers and paid firefighters out there every success and every luck,’’ he said.‘‘There have been suggestions already that some of these fires may well be the result of arson.‘‘Hopefully that is not true; hopefully it is down to today’s weather conditions.’’The premier said a southerly change was not expected in Sydney until 5pm.

2.51pm A sixth emergency warning has been declared. A grassfire is burning at Narellan Road, at Smeaton Grange, near Camden.That's also near the Hume Highway.

2.42pm From the South Coast Register: A fire that broke out in bush behind businesses on the northern side of Quinns Lane at South Nowra threatened homes and businesses at 1pm today. RFS has instructed residents that it is too late to evacuate, and to stay calm.  At least 10 fire trucks from RFS, Fire and Rescue NSW and NPWS were on scene protecting properties as the fire made its way toward homes on Old Southern Road. Roads were blocked as emergency services worked around the streets. Thick smoke blacked out the sun at one stage as tyres behind the commercial buildings burned. A re-ignition of the hazard reduction burn on Rockhill Road, North Nowra has been contained and crews there are mopping up. There has been a report of powerlines down over a motorhome at Jaspers Brush but all occupants are out of the vehicle and safe. Meanwhile, the RFS has issued a Watch and Act advice for the Werriton fire west of Ulladulla so nearby residents make plans in the event of the blaze spreading. The fire has burnt more than 100 hectares and the Western Distributor road has been closed as a precaution.  The blaze is being monitored by aircraft but wind is preventing water bombing. At this stage no properties are being threatened.

2.39pm NSW Paramedics are urging everyone to be aware of smoke in the air. This is particularly important for the elderly, the very young and those with respiratory conditions like asthma. Fine smoke particles are known to affect the human respiratory system.  These particles can cause a variety of health problems, such as itchy or burning eyes, throat irritation, runny nose, shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing. The smoke particles can also aggravate existing lung conditions, such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Symptoms can occur for several days after smoke inhalation, so people with existing conditions need to be vigilant with their treatment programs.The following precautions can help minimise the adverse effects of bushfire smoke: 

• Stay indoors with windows and doors closed. 

• Stay in air-conditioned premises if possible. 

• Avoid vigorous exercise, especially if you have pre-existing respiratory or cardiac conditions. 

• Cover your nose and mouth with a mask designed to filter fine particles. 

• Consider staying with a friend or relative whose house has clean indoor air. 

2.35pm People near Quinn's Road being urged to seek shelter.

2.30pm BALMORAL UPDATE: The structure that was destroyed by fire may have been a shed. Fire crews cannot get in the area to confirm.

2.29pm All warnings still in place. Yanderra residents being urged to evacuate their homes while Balmoral residents have been advised to seek shelter.

2.23pm The Hume Highway, between Picton Rd and the Old Hume Hwy, is closed in both directions due to bushfires.

2.21pm The Southern Highlands RFS has just posted on Facebook:

The Hall Rd Fire that started in Balmoral earlier today has crossed the Hume Highway, which has now been closed. The Southern Railway line has also been closed. Yanderra Village continues to be subject to ember attack which is causing some spot fires

2.20pm The smell of smoke is becoming more prominent in the region.

2.14pm There is now five emergency warnings in place for blazes across NSW: Springwood, South Nowra, Lithgow, Heatherbrae & Balmoral

2.12pm We've just heard reports of spot fires at Yanderra. An evacuation centre has been set up at Mittagong RSL.

2.09pm SOUTH NOWRA: People in the area near Quinn's Road, Browns Road, Old Southern Road and the Princes Highway should seek shelter as the fire impacts.

2.08pm Check the status of fires in your region here:

http://www.rfs.nsw.gov.au/dsp_content.cfm?cat_id=683

2.07pm WIN News crews captured this pic:

2.05pm Fire involving industrial building has broken out in Quinn's Lane in South Nowra. It is understood it began as a grass fire and has now taken hold of a factory.

2.04pm The Hume Highway is likely to be impacted by fires.

2.01pm Flames of up to seven metres high have been reported in Balmoral. A resident has reported seeing flames impacting properties. Several households have been evacuated.

1.59pm The Hume Motorway is closed in both directions between Mittagong and Bargo due to the bushfires. Motorists are advised to avoid all non-essential travel in the area. Southbound motorists are being diverted into Avon Dam Road, while northbound motorists are being turned around. Motorists who need to travel can use the Illawarra Highway and Princes Motorway through Wollongong but this is a lengthy diversion. The Southern Highlands train line is partially closed between Picton and Moss Vale. Passengers are advised to delay their trip.

1.56pm Truckloads of Illawarra firefighters have rushed to a blaze in the Southern Highlands, which is now burning out of control, blanketing the region in a thick layer of smoke. There are reports one house is already alight at Balmoral village in the Wingecarribee while several other homes are under threat. Residents living in Yanderra, near Balmoral, have been urged to move towards Bargo while Balmoral residents have been advised to seek shelter as the fire impacts. Rural Fire Service (RFS) spokesman Joel Kursawe said the Balmoral fire was moving extremely quickly. ‘‘They’re saying that one house is already alight, that could be because the house was alight and it’s spread, or not, we don’t know,’’ he told reporters. ‘‘It’s all happened very quickly.’’ A Bargo resident contacted the Mercury with concerns for his property and nearby homes. Five fire trucks and 24 crew members from the Illawarra RFS have rushed to Balmoral to assist in fighting the blaze. The Illawarra (RFS) also has one spotter plane flying over the region. Meantime, firefighters have fielded several calls from Illawarra residents regarding the thick layer of smoke hanging over the region. The RFS has advised residents to take shelter and protected themselves from the heat. A watch and act warning has also been issued for residents living in Wilton around Wilton Park Road for an out of control grass fire. RFS crews are responding. (with AAP)

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