COMMUNITIES across the fire-ravaged Blue Mountains are expected to be completely deserted by this morning as thousands of firefighters prepare for their toughest challenge yet.
Hundreds of thousands of residents have fled their homes since a wildfire broke out near Penrith last week and with catastrophic weather warnings predicted for the days ahead, the remaining few were urged to get out while they still could.
Nursing homes and schools across the Blue Mountains Local Government region were evacuated on Monday and remain closed.
Whole streets at Winmalee and Springwood have been reduced to ashes and major roads have been cut, but NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said there was still time for residents to activate their bushfire survival plans.
Speaking to reporters yesterday afternoon, he said residents who had not yet done so, should have had their plans ready by last night and should be "somewhere outside the Blue Mountains" by lunch time today.
But while families and their pets head for the safety of loved ones' homes, an army of orange and yellow uniforms will stay behind.
Help has come from all corners of the country since last Thursday.
Contingents of firefighters from Queensland and northern NSW joined the battle front at the two major Blue Mountains fires this week.
Mr Fitzsimmons, who broke down last week when describing the bravery of his crew, continued to praise their efforts yesterday, but warned the worst could still be to come.
He said cooler conditions had brought little relief to a "volatile and dynamic operation" and if hot and dry conditions predicted for today eventuated, crews were going to be in for another "difficult and challenging day".
More than 60 fires were still burning across the state last night.
At least 15 remained out of control.
The firefighting effort was concentrated on the Blue Mountains blazes.
However, 200 firefighters remained at the scene of a Southern Highlands fire which was at "watch and act" status.
Updates can found at www.rfs.nsw.gov.au.
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