Bushfires raged out of control across Australia's most populous state yesterday fanned by intense heat and high winds - fearsome conditions that were threatening homes and triggered evacuations.
More than 130 fires were burning in New South Wales. Forty were uncontained, Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said in Sydney.
"You don't get conditions worse than this," he said. "We're at the catastrophic level."
Introduced after a 2009 firestorm in Victoria state claimed 173 lives, a "catastrophic" rating means fires will be uncontrollable, unpredictable and move fast, with evacuation the only safe option.
So New South Wales was last night facing huge challenges. The high winds made temperatures that in some parts reached 45 degrees Celsius more fearsome. Yet there were no reports of of casualties.
Of particular concern were the regions of Shoalhaven, Illawarra and Southern Ranges south of Sydney - all popular summer holiday locations.
Shoalhaven mayor Joanna Gash said her area was a tinderbox and "things are not looking good."
Also in southern New South Wales, authorities warned that an out-of-control grass fire threatened properties in Brogo. "We just looked at each other and said we're leaving," resident Hallie Fernandez- Markov recounted in the town of Cobargo, where she was with friends after fleeing her guest house.
The tourist resort of Kings Canyon went up in flames after a fire spread from Watarrka National Park, with visitors evacuated just in time.
Much of southern Australia is enduring a heatwave and a total fire ban is in place throughout New South Wales. All national parks are closed and temperatures have topped 42 degrees Celsius in Sydney and hit 45 degrees in the state's west.
And with temperatures expected to continue climbing, the Bureau of Meteorology has new colors - deep purple and pink - on charts for forecasts above the previous limit of 50 degrees.
Fitzsimmons said while a cool front was arriving from the south - temperatures in some areas fell from 40 to 24 degrees in minutes - it was slow.
There were also extreme conditions in Victoria, with a blaze around the town of Kentbruck in the southwest out of control and 400 firefighters battling to stop it.
Fires destroyed more than 100 homes in Tasmania at the weekend, and around 40 continued across the island state.