The North Black Range fire near Braidwood eased on Sunday evening, but fire fighters urged residents to stay highly vigilant in fast-changing conditions with the wind expected to pick up again on Monday.
At the South Coast, a fire reached emergency alert on Sunday, with people west of the Princes Highway between East Lynne and Termeil told to seek shelter. East Lynne is about 20 kilometres north of Batemans Bay.
People on the coast side of the Princes Highway at Durra, Depot Beach, Pebbly Beach, Pretty Beach and Bawley Point were told to leave, with evacuation centres at Batemans Bay and Ulladulla.
A fire service spokesman James Morris said the fire was likely to cross the Princes Highway during the night towards the coast, with winds not expected to ease until 2am. The highway was still open but motorists were told to be prepared for closures at short notice.
The fire was burning hard and quick, too fast to stop, with the focus on saving lives and property. Aircraft were grounded during the afternoon because of strong winds and could be grounded again on Monday.
The fire was burning uncontrolled across 11,600 hectares, doubling in size during the day.
In Braidwood, fire fighters were protecting properties in Jinglemoney Road and Columbo Road southwest of Braidwood on Sunday evening, after working during the day to put out spot fires as they jumped Cooma Road. Sandholes Road was another focus, and the fire was moving towards residential areas at Forbes Creek.
On Monday, Braidwood Central School, St Bede's primary school and preschools in Braidwood will be closed.
The Braidwood fire suddenly escalated at lunchtime on Sunday before being downgraded in the evening, with 150 fire fighters, Hercules and DC-10 air tankers, helicopters and strike teams from the ACT and other parts of NSW on the job.
NSW fire service Lake George district officer Darren Marks said the fire was "completely uncontained" and the strategy was to let it burn in the forest but catch it as it came out of the forest, extinguishing spot fires into grasslands, and stop it crossing Cooma Road.
Earlier, residents in Bendoura, Majors Creek, Jembaicumbene, Wallaces Gap Creek and Reidsdale were told to activate their fire plans and prepare to leave sooner rather than later. Some left, while other residents, including around Bendoura, stayed to protect their homes.
They included the Flack family in Bendoura on Cooma Road, where Amanda Flack said she had a bandanna over her face against the intense smoke, sprinklers going, and wheelbarrows filled with water soaking hessian sacks to use against spot fires.
She described conditions as desperate, with unpredictable winds, with multiple fire trucks and helicopters near her home on Cooma Road and Farringdon Lane.
"We're not going anywhere," she said, confident the family could protect the house. The paddocks between the base of the ridge and the house were very bare and the family had used the past few days to bulldoze firebreaks.
The Braidwood and South Coast fires were pushed by strong wind, despite cool weather and some rain which Mr Marks said had taken the sting out of the Braidwood fire on Sunday evening by increasing humidity. In a weekend of extremes, snow is forecast at Charlotte Pass and a sheep grazier's alert has been issued for cold and strong winds on Monday.
Mr Marks said Braidwood area residents could head home on Sunday night, but only if they were prepared to be vigilant.
"If that fire comes it could come through in a hurry," he said.
The fire was downgraded to "advice" level on Sunday evening. But people in Jembaicumbene, Bendoura and Majors Creek were told that if their plan was to leave, they should leave now towards Braidwood. In Bombay or Little Bombay, the advice was to monitor conditions, with the wind expected to cause problems again on Monday.
"The message we are putting out to people is that this fire is a long way from done so you need to be paying attention," Mr Marks said.
The Canberra Times
Subscribe to our newsletters for breaking news alerts and more