Two dead, seven missing and 150 homes lost in unprecedented bushfire crisis

A bushfire and fearsome cloud loom over Harrington, a village on the mid north coast of NSW.

A bushfire and fearsome cloud loom over Harrington, a village on the mid north coast of NSW. Photo: Kelly-ann Oosterbeek)

The devastating fires raging across northern NSW and southern Queensland have now claimed the lives of two people, 150 homes, a school, several bridges, telecommunications equipment and farm buildings.

Another seven people have not been accounted for, with the likelihood of reports of more fatalities throughout the day.

The fire at Glen Innes saw 164 inmates evacuated from Glen Innes Correctional Centre to Grafton Correctional Centre on Saturday morning.

And 2600 people have been evacuate from Noosa overnight with Tewantin, in Noosa’s north, cut off amid concerns spot fires could cause more havoc as temperatures rise throughout the day.

They sought shelter at local showgrounds, sporting facilities and church outreach centres. One firefighter broke their leg and a home has been destroyed at Cooroibah.

“We could see more casualties and more loss,” the NSW Rural Fire Service said in a press conference on Saturday.

Firefighters found the remains of one person in a car near Glen Innes in the New England region of NSW.

The NSW Rural Fire Service made the announcement on social media on Saturday morning and are working with police.

“Firefighters have located the remains of a person in a vehicle at the Kangawalla fire, near Glen Innes.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed to reporters a second person has died, telling reporters on Saturday: “The situation is beyond serious”.

“I’m sorry to say that number could increase during the day,” she said.

A woman who was discovered by firefighters in the same blaze on Friday – in an unrelated incident – was treated for severe burns to 40 per cent of her body before being transferred to Concord hospital where she later died, RFS commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said.

“We can’t rule out the really grave concerns that there could be more losses or indeed more fatalities as we get through and identify details across these fire grounds,” he told reporters in Sydney.

State Emergency Operational Controller (SEOCON), Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys, said a number of people remain unaccounted for in the New England area.

As of 1pm on Saturday, 80 fires are continuing to burn, 40 uncontained and two remain at emergency warning level at Hillville south of Taree and Stockyard Flat near Walcha.

Fire crews have warned they can’t rescue everyone as unprecedented blazes razed at least 100 properties in NSW and forced thousands of people to flee homes overnight in two states.

Residents were reportedly trapped in houses in NSW and there are fears for five missing people near Glenn Innes as wind changes pushed firefronts in new directions in NSW, sparking urgent evacuations in numerous towns and suburbs.

“Unfortunately, many people have called for help but due to the size and speed of the fires we couldn’t get to everyone, even by road or helicopter,” NSW Rural Fire Service warned in a tweet.

“If you’ve been affected or know someone who has, use #nswrfs.”

About 30 people are injured, including firefighters.

Terrified residents described scenes of Armageddon as evening skies burned orange, flames grew like skyscrapers and dark clouds choked the air ahead of an expected cool change over the weekend.

The intensity of the extreme infernos on the NSW north coast even created their own weather conditions as fires became “more intense – and more dangerous”, the NSW Rural Fire Service warned.

The so-called fire clouds (pyrocumulus) can create lightning and thunderstorms as ferocious fires feed one another and produce thick black clouds.

“These are extremely dangerous. Do not be caught in the open,” NSW RFS warned.

Emergency warnings are in place in NSW from the Blue Mountains to the Queensland border while in Queensland fires have been raging from the Gold Coast to the Sunshine Coast, including an earlier suspicious blaze that was sparked in the Brisbane city suburb of The Gap on Friday.

Six of the NSW fires were at “emergency level” Saturday morning while many remained “erratic and dangerous”.

Early Saturday morning in Queensland, thousands of residents were ordered to “leave now” in the regional towns and suburbs of Thornton and Lefthand Branch near the Lockey Valley;  Noosa North Shore, Cooroibah and Tewantin on the Sunshine Coast and Lower Beechmont near the Gold Coast.

Others were told to prepare to leave at Clumber and Moogerah (south of Beechmont), Tarome, Jimna, Laidley Creek and Mulgowie.

About 50 fires were burning across the Sunshine State in hot, dry and windy conditions.

NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said emergency workers were facing never-before-seen circumstances.

“We are in uncharted territory … we’ve never seen this many fires concurrently at emergency warning level,” he said.

“We can certainly see some of the aerial footage and the vision coming through which is identifying some widespread property damage and destruction right across multiple firegrounds,” Mr Fitzsimmons told ABC on Friday night.

A home on fire at Bobin, a small town on the mid north coast of NSW. Photo: ABC

MidCoast Mayor David West, who lives in Brimbin, said he had never seen anything like the fire in his area.

“I’m looking at a sky that’s screaming danger, that’s saying ‘get out of my way, I’m going to kill you’,” he said.

“I know that sounds melodramatic but it’s not. This is a fire that’s devouring everything in its path.”

Mid-Coast Council Mayor David West told the ABC 92,000 people in the major centres of Forster, Crowdy Bay and Harrington were affected.

“I’m looking out of my office window and all I see is what I’m assuming people in London saw during the Second World War — it’s a horrible, horrible sight,” he said.

WA warnings

Meanwhile extremely hot, dry and windy conditions are expected to lash parts of Western Australia on Saturday, increasing the risk of bushfires in the state.

Northern and western parts of WA will cop the worst of the weather, with an extreme fire danger rating expected to be declared in three regions.

An extreme fire danger rating has been forecast for the central west, east Pilbara coast and west Pilbara coast regions. Under this rating, any fire that takes hold will be uncontrollable, unpredictable and fast-moving.

A severe fire danger rating – one level below extreme – is forecast for the lower west district including Perth, the west Kimberley coast, Kimberley inland, east Pilbara inland, Ashburton Island, Gascoyne Inland, the North Interior and Mortlock districts.

A bushfire was burning at a small town in WA’s Wheatbelt region on Friday.

-with AAP

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