NSW bushfires: Residents begin to flee

A firefighter in Bilpin in the Blue Mountains. Photo / AAP
A firefighter in Bilpin in the Blue Mountains. Photo / AAP

Residents of the NSW Blue Mountains are beginning to flee ahead of what's feared to be the most serious day of the state's bushfire crisis.

Fire authorities have warned residents to leave today if they're not prepared to defend their homes, ahead of hot, dry and windy conditions.

All Blue Mountains schools have been closed to keep families together in the case of evacuations and people have been told not to enter the area unless it's essential.

Premier Barry O'Farrell said Lithgow Workers Club and Penrith Worker's Club were open for people who have nowhere else to go and state government assistance was available there.

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"We hope of course that today's conditions, today's potential events, do not occur," he told reporters.

"As the commissioner has said repeatedly, we've planned for the worst, but we continue to hope for the best.

"But whatever happens today, we're not out of the woods.

"This will be a long exercise, not just from these firegrounds but from elsewhere.

The premier said the state would get through the day because of the "extraordinary efforts" of fire authorities in planning and firefighting.

Three of the four most serious bushfires are being battled in the mountains west of Sydney, where more than 200 homes were burned down last week.

WORST OF THE WEATHER YET TO COME

Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said the five millilitres of rain overnight had cooled the area, but the worst of the weather was yet to come.

"It's only a matter of hours before we start to see a flare up in the fire activity and potential for breach of these tenuous containment strategies," he told reporters.

He said winds in the Blue Mountains were strengthening to up to 70km/h and cloud was "burning off" across greater Sydney and the major firegrounds.

"It is important today that we remain vigilant and ready to act," he added.

KEEP CHILDREN CLOSE

Mr Fitzsimmons urged parents in the Blue Mountains to keep their children with them throughout today.

"If they were my children I would want to have them with me ... or drop them with a family member or a trusted friend," he said.

"This is not a day off (for kids) to have a good time."

He said the RFS was also tracking lightning activity in western NSW near Bourke, Walgett and Broken Hill.

He said fires had been sparked in those regions as a result of overnight lightning, but firefighters had the upper hand on the blazes.

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LANDLORDS SEEKING TO CAPITALISE

Any Blue Mountains landlords seeking to capitalise from people who have lost their homes in the bushfires are "heartless grubs" and will be fined and shamed.

That's the message from NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell who says Fair Trading is investigating reports one landlord tried to ratchet up his rent ahead of an anticipated increase in bushfire-affected people seeking temporary accommodation.

"That's unconscionable behaviour. Fair Trading will crack down on it," Mr O'Farrell said.

"We have the power to name and shame people that engage in such practices.

"This sort of bastardry, trying to price gouge off the back of a natural disaster, is unacceptable."

Any "heartless grub" seeking to benefit from someone else's hardship could face a fine of up to $220,000 for an individual or $1.1 million for corporations, he warned.

Fair Trading inspectors are on the ground in bushfire zones on the lookout for such behaviour.

Anyone aware of price gouging or who has concerns about conmen moving into bushfire areas should call 1800 213 428.

- AAP

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